M14 is the new hotness, and like everyone else I'm excited to get a first chance to play with the cards this weekend. But I'm even more excited for the possibilities the new set means for Standard. The time immediately after the release of the new core set is the biggest the Standard format gets each year, which means there are the most possible interactions.
In particular, the window between the release of the new core set and the fall expansion is the only time two core sets are ever in the same format together. Quite often that overlap leads to some powerful combinations, since each core set tends to have cards that fill specific roles and double the core sets gives us double the role-players.
The overlap that has me the most excited right now probably won't surprise anyone. When I started playing Magic almost twenty years ago, the first deck I ever build was full of Llanowar Elves, Wild Growths, and Craw Wurms – nothing has really changed since then. The addition of Elvish Mystic alongside Arbor Elf means that green decks now have access to eight turn-one mana elves. Yes, there has also been Avacyn's Pilgrim, but there are two big differences between Pilgrim and Mystic.
First of all, Pilgrim produces white mana, which means that fewer decks are going to be able to effectively use the mana – every deck that can cast Mystic has use for green mana, clearly. Sometimes you're desperate enough for any acceleration that you'll use an off-color Pilgrim (like in my Jund deck from Innistrad block), but you'd obviously rather have green – especially if you're looking to cast a green-intensive card like, say, Predator Ooze. The other difference is that Mystic is actually an Elf rather than a Human, which may give Elvish Archdruid the boost it needs to make an impact.
The prospect of having eight functional turn-one mana creatures in, say, G/R or G/B is really exciting. Back when I was playing my Ooze deck, the draws that had a first-turn Arbor Elf were way better than the draws that didn't. It's also important that Elvish Mystic is an unconditional mana producer – with Arbor Elf, it happens far too often that you end up with a draw that has no actual Forests to untap, thanks to Rootbound Crags, Woodland Cemetery, and Guildgates. There's nothing quite as depressing as an Arbor Elf without a Forest. It must be that Dimir paper factory in town…
One of the most exciting things to me about Elvish Mystic is how much better it makes Domri Rade in a lot of decks. Domri is my favorite card to come out in quite some time. I think it's a planeswalker that is at pretty much exactly the correct power level – very good in a particular strategy (and even better against certain other strategies), but not generically powerful or oppressive. It also happens to fit into exactly the sort of decks that I like to play, so even better. Domri, like all planeswalkers, benefits from coming online as quickly as possible, and with four more turn-one mana accelerators to cast him on turn two (that are creatures, I might add, so they're hits with his +1), I anticipate the little drummer boy making a big impact.
Here's my first take on a potential Domri deck with M14:
- 4 Arbor Elf
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Ghor-Clan Rampager
- 4 Kalonian Hydra
- 4 Predator Ooze
- 3 Scavenging Ooze
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Witchstalker
It's possible the mana here isn't good enough, but I've really wanted to play Domri in the same deck as Predator Ooze ever since my new best pal planeswalker was printed. Predator Ooze obviously loves to fight, which makes him a perfect pair for Domri, but previously there just weren't enough good creatures between green and red to make the deck work and Arbor Elf wasn't quite enough acceleration. With the addition of Mystic and a few more quality creatures from M14, however, I think there might be enough to work with here.
This list helps showcase a few other M14 cards I'm excited about as well. I think Scavenging Ooze is poised to be one of the most important cards in the set, and not just because it's absolutely incredible against Junk Reanimator. One of the key characteristics of good card for a midrange deck is that it is capable of providing some kind of board presence early while also threatening to be powerful late in the game. This is a big part of the reason Knight of the Reliquary is perhaps the best midrange creature of all time. She can come down early as a sizable body, but as the game goes late, she's capable of outclassing pretty much any creature in the place.
Scavenging Ooze is capable of doing something of a Knight of the Reliquary impression. Sometimes all you need is a creature to come down early and start attacking, or block a Rakdos Cackler or Stromkirk Noble, and Ooze does that capably. But Ooze is also an absolutely huge threat in a game that goes long. Virtually every deck in Standard these days has a significant number of creatures, and when you can turn the same 2/2 that blocked your opponent's one-drop on turn two into an 8/8 that kills them in just a few hits, you've got yourself a winner.
Speaking of 8/8's, the single card that has the Timmy in me the most excited is Kalonian Hydra. The Hydra is impressive on it its own, since at minimum it attacks as an 8/8 trampler the turn after you play it. But if you have either of the Ooze brothers in play, or even an Undying Strangleroot Geist or a Witchstalker your opponent has enabled, it gives you even more value than that. This is actually the most conservative use of Kalonian Hydra I've been thinking about – I'll get to that one in just a bit.
One of the most important cards in this deck is in the sideboard. Burning Earth is going to have an enormous impact on Standard. In fact, it may fundamentally change the type of decks that people play. Remember Manabarbs? Manabarbs was a very powerful sideboard card. Manabarbs was also a card that you needed to be very careful with, because if you played it while you were behind or only tenuously ahead, your opponent could potentially turn the game around and lock you out with it. Not so with Burning Earth. If you build your deck to support it – like this deck with its twelve basic lands and eight mana creatures – you can put your opponent into the squeeze and still be able to operate almost entirely pain-free yourself.
Take a look at all of the successful decks from recent Standard tournaments. Count the basic lands in them. The most you see outside of decks like monored is probably five or six. Many of them have zero! The ability to play a one-sided Manabarbs is incredibly powerful, and Burning Earth is absolutely a card that mono- and two-colored red decks will ride to victory over the next year. If anything, I anticipate the existence of this card pushing Standard in a more aggressive direction. Burning Earth threatens to be devastating against controlling decks like Jund and UWR, but it's much less effective against Bant Hexproof or The Aristocrats. If I weren't already inclined to play proactive decks at every opportunity, I certainly would be now.
So yeah, speaking of proactive decks and Kalonian Hydra, just what can we do with this? The most exciting Hydra build that I've thought of is similar to the Dragon Jund deck I've been playing, with the role of “giant game winning monster” played by Kalonian Hydra instead of Thundermaw Hellkite. I haven't actually played any games with this sketch, and I'm sure it's downright terrible, but it certainly has me excited about the potential of what it might be able to do.
- 2 Dreg Mangler
- 4 Elvish Mystic
- 4 Experiment One
- 2 Falkenrath Aristocrat
- 4 Gyre Sage
- 4 Kalonian Hydra
- 4 Lotleth Troll
- 4 Renegade Krasis
- 4 Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch
- 2 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
I haven't gotten to the point of putting together a sideboard for this, because it's mostly just a proof of concept. How far can you push the +1/+1 counter theme of Kalonian Hydra? One of the first cards that came to mind when I saw the hydra was Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch. Exava's general purpose in Return To Ravnica block was to give haste to your Unleash creatures, but with Hydra she can do so much more. A curve of Mystic into Renegade Krasis into Exava into Hydra actually just kills your opponent on the fourth turn.
T1: Land, Mystic
T2: Land, Krasis
T3: Land, Exava unleashed, evolving Krasis and putting an extra +1/+1 on Exava, attack for 9.
T4: Land, Hydra, attack with all three – Hydra triggers, making itself 8/8, Exava 7/7, and Krasis 5/4. Opponent takes 20 on the spot and is very, very dead.
Is that a “Magic Christmas Land” scenario? Well, maybe. But it's also just your deck curving out – it's not like you need some outlandish combination of cards in order for this to happen. Your opponent is similarly dead if you play a Dreg Mangler instead of Renegade Krasis, or an Experiment One and a Gyre Sage, or a Lotleth Troll with some creatures in your hand.
The basic point is that Exava and Kalonian Hydra are incredibly powerful together. Thinking about this deck got me wondering if we haven't been somewhat foolish in overlooking Exava before this point. A 4/4 First Striking Haste creature is very difficult for most decks to stop. She has stiff competition from Falkenrath Aristocrat and Olivia, but add in additional synergies and it seems like she might be about to outshine either of them. If nothing else, The Blood Witch will almost certainly be a major player in Standard once her Innistrad brethren are out of the format.
Oh, and about that Elvish Archdruid deck...
Again, probably a terrible deck, especially with how many Pillar of Flames and Bonfires are out there right now, but more of an exploration of what is possible with how many mana creatures are going to be in Standard. Consider this:
T1: Forest, Mystic
T2: Forest, Archdruid
T4: Forest, Tap Archdruid for 4, Tap 4 lands and a mana creature, Craterhoof, attack with Hoof, two mana creatures and a Slime for 33.
You can easily replace Craterhoof Behemoth with Biomass Mutation in the above example if your opponent has no blockers – a Biomass Mutation with nine mana means you're attacking with four 7/7's and they're pretty much just as dead. Things get even crazier if you get some Visionaries or another Archdruid involved instead of Slime!
Do I think this deck is going to be a major player? Probably not – it's extremely fragile since it revolves around having both Archdruid and a bunch of other creatures in play – but it certainly looks like it could be fun, and sometimes that's what you're looking for.
In any case, that's it from me for this week, at least as far as strategy is concerned. Like many others, I chose to weigh in this week on the subject of the Magic Pro Tour Hall of Fame voting. I posted my thoughts on my new website, which I urge you to check out – www.bmkgaming.com. Don't worry, though – my strategy articles and videos will remain here at StarCityGames. I've been meaning to put up my own blog site for a while, since I've wanted a place to share my thoughts on subjects that don't necessarily lend themselves well to articles, and I have too much to say for Twitter. Expect to see regular updates on that site about Magic community issues, game design, music, and whatever other thoughts may cross my mind.
One final note – for those of you who have not yet checked out SolForge, now is the best time to do it! We recently launched our deck builder, and we're on track to have online play live next week, so you can build your own decks and play against live opponents across the world! I just finished an online game with Justin Gary a little while ago, and suffice it to say that dragons serve me well no matter what game I'm playing:
Until next time,