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Posted by on Oct 25, 2012 in Standard | 8 comments

Good Cards, Bad Cards

Good Cards, Bad Cards

Standard seems to be in full flux, and after all the hype that surrounded the walking dead before the actual release of Return to Ravnica, Zombies is slowly becoming less and less of a threat in today’s Standard metagame. Thanks to near-weekly large tournaments like the Star City Games Open Series, the play value of cards rises and falls fast, and it is sometimes hard to keep up with what you should be playing and what you should not be playing. To stay on top of what’s happening in Standard, I strongly suggest you follow Nick Vigabool’s Standard Analysis series. And for people who would like a little more in-depth look at why certain cards are good or bad right now, this is the article for you.

Let’s look at some cards that people should not be playing right now, but still are.

Entreat the Angels
The big finisher in Todd Anderson’s UWr Miracle control list from the first SCG open after the release of Return to Ravnica, Entreat the Angels is a card that can close out games fast, something that was desperately needed in the Miracles deck, as it is hard to truly lock up games in Standard right now. There are too many cards being played that swing the game back in the favor of their caster. Entreat trumped basically everything by creating a boardstate that says, “Deal with it, or die next turn”-only, that is exactly what people are doing right now: dealing with the card. From playing more Negates in their sideboard to prevent Entreat from being cast to playing Sever the Bloodline, Detention Sphere, and Mizzium Mortars to deal with the angels, just about everybody has an answer. So what do you do? You stop relying on this card, and find other finishers to play.

Bump in the Night
The other break-out deck from the Open in Cincinnati was Black-Red Zombies, a lightning fast deck that used zombies like Gravecrawler and Diregraf Ghoul to pressure the opponent and finished them off with burn spells like Bump in the Night and Brimstone Volley. Now, with the way Standard is shaping up, we see more and more Centaur Healers, Thragtusks, and Restoration Angels to blink them. On top of that, the new Blue Sun’s Zenith for control decks-Sphinx’s Revelation-gains life too. Burning someone out is not as reliable as it used to be, so if you want to keep shouting “BRAAAINS” at FNM or bigger tournaments, I would switch out your Blood Crypts for Overgrown Tombs and rely more on the staying power of cards like Lotleth Troll to push through the last points of damage.

Slaughter Games
After Cincinnati, Slaughter Games was mentioned by amateurs and professionals alike as a potential answer to the Miracle deck, and I’ve seen people board in Nevermore for the same effect. With Entreat the Angels as the Miracle deck’s “only” win condition, you might be able to catch someone off guard and get an easy win by removing the card before they can say “Hallelujah.” The problem with this plan is that it will only work if Entreat the Angels truly is their only win condition or is the only win condition that beats you. This is almost never the case, and even if it is, this will win you one game (which might be enough if you won game one), after which the control player can board in extra win conditions.

Just remember what you tell yourself when you get spam email: If something seems to good to be true, it probably is. Control players aren’t stupid, and if they are, you shouldn’t be worried about them beating you in the first place.

Slaughter Games and similar cards are generally better against combo decks, where you can remove a critical combo piece, but we don’t have combo decks in Standard.

I’ve also seen people board Slaughter Games or Nevermores against cards like Terminus or Supreme Verdict, as their aggressive decks “can’t beat those cards.” But they can. You just have to hold back a little, or disrupt your opponent enough to kill them before they can successfully wipe your board. Thalia, Guardian of Thraben, is great at doing this, as she can pressure your opponent and slow them down. Blood Artist generally puts your opponent in a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” situation, and both of these cards can help kill your opponent if they just don’t have it, whereas a Nevermore or Slaughter Games would only have wasted you three or four mana (and likely a whole turn), which you could have used to just kill your opponent. Now, I understand neither Thalia nor Blood Artist is great against a miracled Terminus, but that usually happens before you would’ve cast Slaughter Games or Nevermore.

If you want something extra against sweepers, I suggest playing more threats. Other solutions include counterspells, if they have just Terminus, and Rootborn Defenses, if control decks move towards Supreme Verdict.

Now, let’s look at some cards people should be playing right now, that they aren’t playing enough of:

Dissipate, Essence Scatter and Syncopate
Counters are really good right now. With everybody and their dog trying to hardcast Angel of Serenity, Thragtusk, Thundermaw Hellkite and other 4+ drops, why are you not taking advantage by trading your two or three mana for their five? There are plenty of instant speed spells that can prevent you from wasting your time by holding up counter mana (think of Snapcaster Mage, Restoration Angel, Think Twice, Sphinx’s Revelation, Thoughtflare, etc.).

Dissipate and Syncopate have the bonus of being great against flashback spells. Why do you think the UWR Midrange decks made top eight of the Open in Indianapolis despite being a slightly schizophrenic deck? They played a lot of counterspells, and with Snapcaster Mage and Restoration Angel to take advantage of them, they had a strategy that is really good right now.

Cavern of Souls
Related to the above cards, this is what you should be playing next week, when people pick up on counterspells’ current playability. Being able to just slam your Thragtusk or Angel of Serenity down without having to worry about getting it countered is quite the beating against the popular Bant and UWR midrange and control strategies.

Sigarda, Host of Herons
The best card to slam down with Cavern of Souls right now is Sigarda. She kills your opponent fast, comes down quickly enough to matter, and is very hard to remove. She also matches up well against the two most popular flyers in Standard: Restoration Angel and Olivia Voldaren. The latter might be able to grow big enough to take down Sigarda, but thankfully Sigarda is in the right colors to be supported by another underplayed card:

Selesnya Charm
If Thundermaw Hellkites become popular, this card is the perfect answer. Never dead in an aggressive deck, Selesnya Charm can put on some early pressure if your opener lacks threats, or it can be saved to deal with creatures that stop your team from killing your opponent. It helps your Sigarda fly through Olivia Voldaren, Angel of Serenity, and the aforementioned Hellkite alike.

Garruk Relentless and Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
While everybody is fondling their new four-drop blue planeswalker, these two do not get the respect they deserve. Where Jace helps you stay alive and draws you into gas, these two planeswalkers are gas themselves! The creatures they provide are very relevant in this standard, and if you can use Sorin’s second ability once, you will start to get very far ahead quickly. They also play very well together, especially with their all time favorite toys:

Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue
There is a reason these cards were banned in block, and there is a reason Wizards printed a great number of hate cards against them: they are really, really good. Also, very few people seem to be playing hate cards against these token all-stars. There are some creatures (like Olivia and Thundermaw Hellkite) that do well against Lingering Souls, but Intangible Virtue helps here, and it is not like you cannot play removal if you are in white and black. There are some Sever the Bloodlines being played, but these match up worse against Lingering Souls than against Entreat the Angels, since Lingering Souls flashes back for two mana, Sever for seven.

To put these suggestions into a more concrete form, how about you try one of these two lists at your next tournament:

This Esper control list by Michael Hetrick is ready for today’s Standard: it sports Sorin, Lingering Souls, and maindeck counterspells, backed up by a full suite of Dissipates out of the board and even a single Dispel. This man is serious about his counters. Also note that he has access to (instant speed) removal against pesky creatures like Thundermaw Hellkite, which might prove bothersome otherwise.

This Junk Token list takes some of the other suggestions into consideration: it has the arguably best card in Standard right now (Thragtusk), combined with Sorin and Garruk, Lingering Souls and Intangible Virtue, and mana dorks and Keyrunes to play all these spells sooner than your opponent.

It is equipped out of the board with Sigardas, and has a Cavern of Souls main. I think I want two, but I’m not sure what to cut. There are already a lot of colorless producing lands, and I don’t want to cut a Forest, as that will make my Arbor Elves worse.

Good luck, and may you always be one step ahead of your opponents!

Jay Lansdaal
@iLansdaal on Twitter
iLansdaal on mtgo