Friday, October 5, 2012

Top 10 Underrated Return to Ravnica Cards for Standard

Top 10 Underrated Return to Ravnica Cards for Standard: RTR Cunderstructed

These buildings sure are tall.

When wondering down the bustling thoroughfares of Ravnica’s districts and neighborhoods, you are surrounded by the dominant, omniscient spires of the guilds who control the plane.  They’re easily recognizable, even from far off, and the machinations and power inherent within these paragons is warping and overt.  Everyone knows they’re there, and some people like them being there.  These icons of control, power and reliability give them a lot of appeal, after all.  You can trust them.  You can work well with them.

As you meander through the dizzying stone pillars of the city, it’s easy to look up and see what’s above you and accept that, well, that’s the big thing in town.  It’s not wrong to trust the mainstream, but have you ever considered lowering your gaze to the myriad denizens that nudge past you while you stand idly in the street?  Each has potential and power on its own, and when these low-profile beings are given their chance, they can be as powerful as those established fixtures.  Why deny them that chance?

Return to Ravnica as a set is filled with a wide variety of cards and, like with any other set, as it becomes spoiled, several cards shoot heads and shoulders above the rest as the “chase” cards of the set.  Lately, planeswalkers almost always rise to that role, as well as cheap, efficient creatures and broad, flexible spells.  Their price climbs and climbs and before long, the average Magic player can’t afford them.  Does that mean he or she can’t compete? 

Why, certainly not!

As per usual here at Untap Target Player, I like to keep things a bit offbeat.  There are 249 cards to peruse for this set, and with the shrinking of Standard to just five sets, the format is replete with possibilities.  I’ll admit that Lolteth Troll is probably the best non-mythic creature in Standard, and Abrupt Decay is the most efficient piece of removal Standard has seen since Lightning Bolt, but we’re looking at the cards that aren’t enjoying the limelight as much.  The key to playing a good Standard game, like in Limited, is to know the possibilities of what could come up.  Knowing every card is ideal, but even just understanding strategies and card synergies is important, too.  Surprise your opponent by efficiently maneuvering the underrated spells highlighted below. 

As of the very moment that this article is published, Scars of Mirrodin is gone and Ravnica will have fully returned.  If you’re here to make an unusual deck for Standard, or even just to make a deck that isn’t the same as your buddy’s, we’re here to help. 

Without further ado, let’s look at the Top 10 Cunderstructed cards from Return to Ravnica!

First, an obligatory honorable mention.

Nivmagus Elemental

Stigma Lasher walked under some power lines.
I love the design of this card.  Frankly, design-wise, it might be my favorite card in the set, and I went nuts when it was spoiled.

Originally, I thought it could just be the new Tarmagoyf.  A cheap creature that costs no mana to pump is very good (see Lolteth Troll), and so I just about insta-ordered four of them in the firm belief that he would quickly rise to double-digit amounts.  The ability to turn any instant or sorcery in your hand into a permanent pump spell seems amazing.  I pictured game states of casting this on turn 1, then turn 2 I’d cast and flashback Artful Dodge and bash you with a 3/4.  On turn 2!  In mono-blue or Izzet, that seemed strong.  Quickly it could move out of the range of toughness-based removal, and your opponents would need an answer quickly.  You could siphon the power from a botched counterspell into this fellow, or turn a one-shot burn spell into continual damage.  All on a one-mana guy!

With the sunset of cantripping library manipulation, Delver seems set to slide back into more of a niche deck role.  I’m sure it’ll still get played for a while, but before long, the void would need to be filled with something more reliable.  The Nivmagus fit that bill.

Or so I thought.

After reading the card a little more closely and really considering realistic board states, I came to the conclusion that this card had as much potential as a six-year-old symphonist, but that it would often require overcommitment and would thus loose a bit of its raw power.  Conversely, Delver requires literally nothing; no card loss, no mana, just a deck built to capitalize on the plan and a bit of lucksacking.  I still feel that Nivmagus Elemental is vastly underrated, especially with flashback spells, but he might just end up being too cute to function effectively.  Still, I hold a candle for this guy in the hopes that one day, he’ll be given his true chance to glow.

And now, to the top 10!

10. Centaur Healer

Venerable Monk, just horsing around.
In RTR Standard’s infancy, you will be smashed.  A lot.  Aggro decks naturally arise first whenever Standard changes drastically.  Mana bases smooth out and new cheap creatures become available, so aggressively costed decks can often overpower cuter, perhaps more original decks of perhaps an intrinsicly higher caliber.  The Healer is a super efficient, on-curve creature for any deck in need of any of its uses.  It’s a nice aggressive fellow to lay down the beats, it couples nicely with any life gain strategy, and it provides a nice wall so stop early beats from the likes of either side of a Geralf’s Messenger, a Rakdos Cackler and it can survive piddly burn effectively.  The three life is quite relevant, erasing a Delver smack or a Searing Spear.  Alongside Restoration Angel and Thragtusk, you have a nice safety net to play your deck safely, whatever the end game is.  I know that, as I rebuild my Selesnyeva deck, this guy will happily slide in. 

9.  Shrieking Affliction

Binaca!  BINACA!
Ok, for those of you don’t know, this is what Megrim should be.

Stage 1.
Megrim is a favorite card amongst Timmies; just about everyone in Magic has at one time had a Megrim deck.  Just about as many people have been vastly disappointed when the deck worked in the wrong order or was otherwise ineffective at killing the opponent while protecting yourself long enough to do them in.

Then, we got Liliana’s Caress.

Huh?  Megrim is evolving!
Liliana’s Caress was just about strictly better, being one mana cheaper and using life-loss, not damage, as its output.  Megrim fans rejoiced at Megrim copies #5-8, but there was still something wrong.  What if you didn’t have discard in hand, or you didn’t have the enchantment in hand when you had discard ready?

This major flaw cuts into discard decks time and time again.  An opponent with an empty hand blanks the discard in your hand, so how do you kill them?  The Rack is good, sure, but this is more efficient and harder to kill, as well as Standard legal.  For just one mana, you can punish opponents who play out their hand too fast.  No discard required, just play it out and find your win condition – a great choice for an aggressive black deck where your opponent has to play their hand to stay alive.  It’s niche,  but I like it, and I know that R&D is heading in the right direction if this is the improvement they are pushing.

8.  Ash Zealot

I AM PASSIONATE ABOUT FIERY REFUSE!” – Frieda Cinderwind, ash zealot
Ash Zealot is exactly what mono-red, a soon-to-be-revitalized archetype, wants to be doing on turn 2.  Playing this guy and swinging safely into nearly any early combat will give this guy semi-evasive qualities.  The rider at the end is not completely irrelevant; in an occasional game, you might get a Lava Spike or two out of it, but his combat stats are what make him a nice one.  If you are not careful, this will kill you in a hurry.  Being a human is also a blessing, and the R/W Human archetype popular after AVR just got another powerful tool.  Don’t underestimate this thing.  Without an answer, it’ll take a third of your life without blinking.

7.  Collective Blessing

Ever wanted to Overrun FOREVER?

Having lost my Match 1, Game 2 of the RTR Prerelease to this card, and I can attest that is a monstrous swing.  In a cloggy token deck, this will just flat win the game.  No muss, no fuss, you’re dead.  This is only one more mana than Overrun (or any of its variants, like Predatory Rampage or Overwhelming Stampede) and it dodges the pesky problem an Overrun has like Fog.  This will make the smallest possible creature a 3/4, so make sure you stock your deck with a bunch of little guys.  After you resolve this, you can’t lose.

Frankly, there isn’t a deck that can cast this that won’t want it.  Pick your foil singleton, as I think that’d be about all you’d play, but they are kind of funny in multiples. 

6.  Volatile Rig

“A hornet stung it!  RUN!!!!” – Professor Ilva von Gret, last words

This card, despite the fact it shares neither a color nor a watermark with Izzet, is very heavily Izzet in flavor.  The Rig embodies one of my favorite casual creature types, Juggernaut.  Although this is a Construct, the principle is the same – an undercosted, colorless beatstick that dissuades blocking with either a French vanilla ability (like trample) or a triggered effect (like Galvanic Juggernaut or this guy).  Volatile Rig is at a nice point on the curve and is, in my opinion, a really nice build-around card.  It’s also a neat sideboard card against creature heavy decks.  It’s best if you can trigger its death on command, for sure.  Even though it’s a coin-flip card, the risk of wiping the board will be something your opponent will have to mentally contend with.  Oh, and Trading Post.

5.  Rakdos Cackler

Diregraf Ghoul in red, huh?  Or red AND black?  Remember, this is actually easier to cast than any mono-colored one drop, so its flexibility is built in, and the option to have it come into play “untapped” (able to block) is perfectly fine.  Most red or black decks are very happy to have two power swinging on turn two without turn two investment.  These guys will be a huge game all the way until they rotate in 2014.  Unlike Vexing Devil’s sputtering failure, this is a one-drop red can get excited about, and it will be more relevant throughout the game than something like Stromkirk Noble, which still only hits for 1.  He will find his way into any aggressive deck that can cast him; at just a $1.00 right now, you might wanna try to snatch up your playset now.  He’ll be 1.50 or 2.00 after Innistrad rotates and people will still want him.  This is the standard, folks.

4.  Inaction Injunction

Halt!  Stop doing...nothing!
If we have learned anything from the most recent Standard monster, cheap blue cantrips are pretty bananas.  Thought Scour, just a shade better than Reach through Mists, has enjoyed playset-level prevalence in U/W Delver.  Although this is a sorcery, it does affect the board state, makes a nice Snapcaster target and is cheap and effective at what it does, even if it just Time Walks you in the early game.  I’m putting it this high on the list for one main reason; Inaction Injunction, if just a little bit better, such as being an instant or one mana cheaper, would see top-tier play.  We’ll see if its minor drawbacks will be enough to keep it benched.  In a world of Izzet decks that care about instants and going through your deck and with Azorius decks building tempo, I bet we’ll get Injunctioned a time or two or a hundred.

3.  Izzet Charm

Charming, izzet it?
The most mainstream card on this list, Izzet Charm will be the go-to Charm for a lot of decks and will be an invaluable tool at any point in the game.  I put it at #3 on an otherwise offbeat list to emphasize how much this will affect the metagame.  Your opponents will need to worry about the first two modes at most any point in the game, and the Faithless Looting at instant speed is relevant for you late game as you dig for an answer or for a threat.  The only thing that would have made it more busted would be to hit a player.  Regardless, this is arguably the most effective Charm in the set and one of the best Charms ever printed.  It’s good in every matchup, even without targets, which makes it relevant any time.

2.  Desecration Demon

How’d THIS guy slip past the radar?  He eats Dragons, kills dudes or slams in for a million?  I could very easily have seen this guy as a 5/5 Demon with the same ability and cost, but six pushes it to extremes.  People don’t know it yet, but every black deck wants this.  He becomes bigger and bigger each time something dies, and against an empty board, he just wrecks you.  He’s a ruthlessly efficient creature that also has a high power for relevant activities like Fling, Essence Harvest and Disciple of Bolas.  He’s a really solid black option, and he will define the black creature curve for the next little while.  B/G zombies will probably play a couple of these.  I don’t know why they’re only $4.00 right now, but get ‘em quick!

And finally…

1.  Soul Tithe

Death AND taxes.
I want you to take a moment and look at Soul Tithe. 

Your opponent will have to pay EACH turn to keep whatever you targeted alive.  Nine times out of ten, though, they won’t pay.  What does that mean?

This is a white near-Vindicate for 1W.  No nasty “kill your Oblivion Ring and blow you out.”  Just end it.  If your opponent is willing to pay the mana cost, you’ve either played it wrong or it is their only means to survive or win.  Either way, Soul Tithe is a very, VERY powerful enchantment.  Oblivion Rings still have their place, but not like this guy.  Obviously, you can’t hit tokens and a few oddball permanents, but this will be the go-to answer for white for the foreseeable future.  Mark my words.

And that’s the list!  I stand firmly by this list; you’ll see each in Standard or my name isn’t Mr. Target Player!

Well, bad example, but you get the idea.

I’d love to discuss this with you all, so feel free to leave a comment about what you’ve read today.  See a use for a card I just breezed past, or do you think my choices were pedantic and near-sighted?  Be sure to follow my blog if you’d like to keep updated with my weekly posts. 

Thanks again for visiting!  From here on out, it’s deck-building time!

Don’t forget to untap!

- Matt H


  1. Pretty interesting list. I agree with some others not so much, maybe it's that I have been trying most of them in rogue decks that would need a more direct effect than this cards provides. Example I was playing some white wennie thingy and using Mana tithe on sb, on game 2 I had a very weak hand and when my opp played a Garruk P. Hunter, he could just pay the 5 mana and keep putting 3/3s (fortunately it was sac'd) The ultimate best of new cards is that some people don't know how to react to them just yet, ha.

  2. Soul Tithe is pretty poor late game, I've come to that conclusion too. It may really just be a win-more card after some testing (this was written before the release), as it only really hurts them if they miss on land, cheat something in by reanimating it, etc. I'd probably put the Demon in first in retrospect.