Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Top 10 Underrated M13 Cards for Standard

Everyone likes an underdog. 

No matter what we’re doing, we always have a soft spot for the little guy.  When we watch movies, we like when the hero rises from unlikely circumstances.  When we watch a sports game, if we are otherwise uncommitted, don’t you get a little excited to see an upset?  Remember a couple of years ago when Butler University, a college of a few thousand, went up against venerated basketball titan Duke for the NCAA title? 
That guy's face...either way, the winner is irrelevant. (coughbigbluenationcough)
We like to cheer for the overwhelmed.  It gives us hope in ourselves; when we encounter challenging events in our lives, we want to believe we have what it takes to excel against the odds.

OK, digressing analogies aside, let’s get to Magic. Today, I wanted to take a look at ten cards from M13 that might have slid under the radar.  Sure, everyone’s hyped about Sublime Archangel, Rancor, and the suite of cards that support mono-black’s return to both aggro and control builds for months to come.  If you want to read an article about those cards, there are plenty of websites/blogs/Youtube channels that will discuss their impact.

The fact that you’re here, though, suggests that you like a little more offbeat fare.  You enjoy putting your brewing cap on and looking at a set from every angle; Limited, Constructed, Commander…you’re not afraid to try. Maybe a unique interaction or effect can drive a fun and flexible deck for you.

Let’s look at ten cards in M13 that deserve a second thought; from niche cards to sideboards to pivotal engines, these cards might rot in a binder or in a shoebox if we’re not careful.  Let’s give them the due attention they deserve and help make your deck better. 

I’ve never done a Constructed list like this before, but we’ll try to keep it fun…here’s the Top 10 Cunderstructed cards of M13!  Get it?  Like underused + Constructed…OK, never mind.

As with my Limited lists, I’ll tack on an 11th card here that deserves an honorable mention.

Honorable Mention

Mindclaw Shaman

Card advantage in red?  What a sham.
This guy is sweet.  Well, actually, he’s not.  He’s a vicious discard-on-a-lizard that gives you a lot of value.  Value is this guy’s middle name, in fact, as you’ll just about always get it when you cast him.  His body is underwhelming, sure, and his disproportionate cost could be restrictive, BUT I think it is an exceptionally strong card against a large portion of decks.  It begs a counterspell very easily, both due to its cost and its effect.  Ramping into this guy seems to be the best way to use him for sure.  Lots of green decks ramp into Acidic Slime or Primeval Titan, but a red deck could ramp into this, right? 

I understand the risk he presents; at worst, he is an underpowered Wanderguard Sentry, and that’s a card no one wants to play.  At his best, though, he’s a Coercion on a stick that gives you the possibility of a 3-for-1 while also disrupting your opponent’s hand and possibly their board, too.  Also, if you’re looking for an answer, what better way than to take your opponents'?  Casting your opponent’s Day of Judgment while they maintain a full board seems like the most awesome play in Standard.  In the real world though, even if you just hit an X spell like Bonfire of the Damned or Entreat the Angels, that’s one less thing you have to deal with.  This guy may be orphaned for his entire Standard career, but maybe there’s hope.  The level of variance is all the keeps him at just an honorable mention.

Now, here’s the full list, starting with...

10. Quirion Dryad

She took the red and the blue pill.

Good to see a reprint given new life!  In this current environment, the ability to cast colored spells is easier than ever, and the ability to pump her at instant speed means she makes combat difficult if you’re representing any kind of spell, so she just demands hard removal.  In this current environment, she reminds me most of Dungrove Elder, and here’s why.  Dungrove gets buffed just by playing a land, a natural part of playing Magic.  Likewise, the Dryad also grows by just casting spells.  She’s an inexpensive and relevant threat that will be neat both before rotation (thanks to Phyrexian mana spells) and after rotation (thanks to whatever multicolor goodies we get from Return to Ravnica).  Although she may never see play at the top tables, she rewards you for just playing the game and slides into a lot of three-color-plus decks; on top of that, she herself is easy to cast, making her a very appealing two-drop.

9. Magmaquake

We're under fire!
This little number has coasted under the radar, but it bears a striking mechanical and aesthetic resemblance to a perfectly decent removal spell from Standard a few years ago; Volcanic Fallout.

Instant sweepers are no joke, as they can defensively foil plans while gaining you card advantage; I foresee this being useful in hexproof matchups where Rancor is cast targeting a Geist of Saint Traft or some such.  The additional planeswalker-hate clause is great, too, as it generates card advantage over life advantage in the right decks.  This card can be a creature or a ‘walker sweeper, making it a very flexible sideboard or maindeck card, depending on the metagame; I know there is a strong Esper Walker deck floating around that uses Tamiyo and Gideon Jura, and this clobbers both as well as any pesky tokens or utility creatures.  This inherent dependence on the style of the opponent’s deck makes it a little too narrow for everyday use, but I know we'll see it nonetheless.

8. Cower in Fear

Moo-er in fear.
This is also a card that is highly dependent on the metagame.  There’s plenty of little 1/1’s out there making mana or getting pumped from various effects.  Cower is a nice combat trick, sweeper, or mini-Fog, in a pinch.  Mono-black control, purported to be making a comeback thanks to all the other M13 love, might find this fellow a welcome sideboard buddy.  I doubt this card will ever be maindecked unless token swarms become a thing.  A one-turn Curse of Death’s Hold seems a little bad, but its aggressive mana cost is perfectly acceptable.  I’d probably rather have Infest or even Nausea, but the instant speed on this is a nice touch, and I have a feeling this will be some kind of anti-aggro card in the future. 

7. Silklash Spider

Charlotte's carnage.
Alright!  What a great reprint!  This is something that green desperately needs; he’ll probably never see a main deck, but resolving this Spider post-sideboard is a one-way ticket to a no-fly zone against the large amount of flyers that play in Standard.  Sideboarding him in can be an effective anti-aggro or anti-control strategy; all that matters is that they have flyers.  Being on 5 mana puts him in powerful competition with other staples and soon-to-be staples like Wolfir Silverheart and Thragtusk.  Still, the control that he is allowed to exert is not to be taken lightly.  One of the most rewarding experiences one could have with this card is watching your Delver opponent NOT want their Delver to flip.  Embrace the control niche of green, for it is good!

6. Hellion Crucible

Aww, hellion!
I’m pretty excited about this card for a couple reasons.  First, it’s a land, meaning it’s a creature/spell that doesn’t take up a spell slot.  Secondly, your opponent will constantly have to play around a potentially lethal two-counter Hellion Crucible in the archetype where he shines best; mono-red.

Red Deck Wins is a straightforward 20 – 0 in 3.6 turns kind of deck, incorporating red burn and powerful, efficiently fast creatures in any number of combinations.  However, in recent months, RDW has all but disappeared from tournament tables and casual tables alike.  I don’t believe this land will change that; Vexing Devil didn’t do it either.  But, the Crucible adds a great tool to an archetype just waiting to be revived.  The colorless mana requirement is irrelevant in a mono-colored deck, and getting a 4/4 creature attached to it is really nice.  Putting mana into this is a great investment for a red deck that’s run out of gas, a common occurrence against most any kind of controlling deck.  This gives red a little more reach without sacrificing much of anything at all.  It’s possibly it could see play in other kinds of red decks, and I look forward to seeing 4/4 hasty Hellions come crashing in without sacrificing precious deck real estate.  Keep an eye on this one.

5. Disciple of Bolas

Killing your buddies for profit takes a lot of bolas.
A Momentous Fall on a stick?  Alright, seems good.

What’s that?  It’s in black?

Jiminy Cricket!  This fellow does a lot of work for a color that loves to kill and draw.  Black decks built around creatures will love this guy; and undying guys get even better.  Turn 3 Geralf’s Messenger, Turn 4 attack with the Messenger, then this guy.  Help keep you ahead in the race will giving yourself card advantage and a body!  Multiples can kill each other!  So much murder!

Seriously, though, the card advantage that he provides to you can make a world of difference.  Using him in concert with undying creatures or creatures that like to die (Thragtusk) seems to be the best plan of attack here.  He’ll be fun whenever you cast him, that’s for sure.  Even if your opponent kills whatever you’d sacrifice in response, the Disciple won't hurt you when he comes in.  At worst, he’s just an expensive Goblin Piker with a relevant creature type.

4. Arctic Aven

Ceiling Bird is watching you sleeve your deck.
If you read my previous article about the best cards in M13 Limited, you know how much I like this guy and the rest of his cycle.  For Standard, though, I think the Aven is a perfectly respectable choice for W/U when Blade Splicer rotates.  Sure, Blade Splicer gave you four power for three mana and semi-evasion, but this guy gives you lifelink and real evasion, making it hard for your opponent to make any amount of damage stick.  Its colors synergize well with it, providing protection and support to make sure you’re always getting through and always gaining life.  It’s possible I’m overvaluing this guy, I just know that he’s a great budget option on three for that deck, and he answers Geist of Saint Traft’s evasion problem while providing you more life while it’s at it. 

Right now, lifelink is such a solid ability that I can’t believe this guy is bad.  I’d feel more comfortable if it already had lifelink, though.  It would also feel pretty good to outrace Vampire Nighthawk.

3. War Falcon

Squawk you, Suntail Hawk!
Shh…shh…do you hear that?

That is the sound of white mages around the world putting four War Falcons in their sideboards to combat the Delver monster. 

It’s clearer now why Wizards didn’t ban Delver.  They knew that answers would abound!  War Falcon is an awesome card and one deserving of the excitement that swirls around it.  White Aggro is a much loved archetype by pros and casual players alike, and War Falcon is a great addition to that; the tribal element is a a fun and easy-to-meet condition.  Two evasive power is crucial on this fellow, and the Flyin’ Lion, as I’ve heard him called, is a great 1-drop to complement any non-Human white aggro deck (where you’d otherwise use Champion of the Parish).  A very maindeckable card, it perfectly answers Delver for a variety of white decks that were basically limited to Righteous Blow against the Insect before.  I know I hate on Delver a lot, but as a brewer, I love killing the big deck, and I hope you do, too.  This Bird will help you get there!

2. Staff of Nin

Howling Rod.
Really?  #2?

Ok, so listen.  I know that there are better options in Standard.  For the same mana, you can cast a Wurmcoil Engine, for heaven's sake.  I am aware of this.  But what will replace it after rotation?  A one-sided Howling Mine that pings? 

Frankly, the effect on this card is unique in Standard; the ability to draw two cards a turn with no cost or strings attached and a ping means this card is a win condition by itself in a lot of control decks that have absent or unreliable win conditions (Entreat the Angels, for example).  A great anti-aggro card, this subtle artifact will just seal games after a turn or two and it’s much harder to deal with than a creature or some such.  You continually generate an extra card to help lock the game up for you.  Ping your opponent’s tokens or your opponent directly without losing anything.  A very strong singleton or two-of, this card will surely find its home in some control list or another, and it only gets better if you cheat or ramp it in.  Six mana is a lot, but after only a turn or two, it will be so worth it.

1. Augur of Bolas

Sea Gate Oracle on crack!  For those of you who played Rise of the Eldrazi standard, Sea Gate Oracle was an underrated common that provided a selective cantripping effect on an acceptable body.  This is a mana cheaper, just as tough, and with an analogous effect!  Awesome!  The fact that he’s a Merfolk is not irrelevant, as other strong Merfolks were printed in this set.  A 1/3 for 1U is also amazingly relevant in a format where Strangleroot Geists bash in unopposed on a lot of Turn Twos.  It’s also a great play after Ponder (while it’s still legal), so you can grab another card you need, even if you shuffled! 

I think he’s going to see a lot of play in Snapcaster/Delver decks, and he makes mono-blue control a lot more appealing.  He blocks cheap stuff very well and will eat a hit from a powerful creature or a removal spell from something at least as expensive as itself.  Not an auto-4, I don’t think, but he’ll definitely see top play, and he’s a great answer for green, white, red and black decks alike.  Memorize his text, because you’ll see him a lot.

I can’t wait to see how M13 will mix up Standard, and I hope these cards don’t get missed while you look to create a powerful, unique and enjoyable deck to play for the next couple months. 

Next time, I’m going to talk about a deck idea I’ve been tossing around for a while; now that’s it’s almost built and with M13 offering a couple helpers, it’s time to take it to the shop and try it out.  See you soon!

Also, on a side note, thank you so much to my regular readers and guests alike for helping my last post become the most successful post I’ve ever had.  I hope that the time you spend reading this blog is helpful for your gaming spirit and your non-gaming heart, too.  Thank you again for stopping by, and make sure you’re a follower so you can stay on top of the offbeat side of Magic! 

Leave me a comment if you agree or disagree with my choices of “cunderstructed” cards.  Have you broken a bulk common?  Been disappointed with a mythic rare?  Let us all know!

Until next time, don’t forget to untap!

- Matt

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