Spoiler time is the best time!
I'm probably in a unique spot when it comes to these spoilers. Yes, they're exciting for us all, but it seems that I'm one of a very small number of people who isn't sick of the current crop of Standard decks. A six-month break will do that, giving me the opportunity to not only be enjoying Standard as a “fresh new” format (to me) but also seeing spoilers for new cards which, in turn, spark new ideas.
I've been in your shoes many times, dear reader. New sets offer a break from the norm, something different from what you've dealt with for the past couple of months. Maybe the new slivers and land will finally be enough to add some color to the otherwise black and... well, blue metagame. I bet you're psyched about these new cards because, honestly, a lot of them do look sweet.
For me, though, I haven't been beaten down into apathy and defeat, every idea in my head getting crushed under the weight of “doesn't beat Deck X” or “can't beat Card Y.” So the new spoilers feel different this time; they feel like an entire wave of possibilities instead of a couple of bright spots in an otherwise three-month continuation of the same ol', same ol'.
Some of the ideas for M15 come out of left field a bit, but truth be told that's always been the case, hasn't it? Luckily, I got my little testing buddy Chris to help me slog through my numerous ideas. My son is even more excited than all of us are, collectively; new cards are wonderful and amazing regardless of how playable they are in Standard or their implications on the Legacy metagame. It's been fun showing him the new stuff, though my current work situation limits me from showing off as much as I want to.
So today, I'm going to go through a couple of my thoughts on the first card that sparked real excitement during the spoiler season and caused me to stop what I was doing and start thinking up ways to build around it. Since I am even more excited than usual, I didn't have to destroy my ideas in their infancy due to a perceived bad matchup against a Tier One deck, which was incredibly refreshing and led to true joy when I came up with interactions I was happy with.
Perhaps I should have this mindset more often, as I'm sure I'm more likely to stumble on something good if I don't discount ideas before trying them. Perhaps we all should, it makes things so much more fun (and may even shake up these perceived “stagnant metagames”).
Remember this: every deck started out as a brew; the top tier decks have just gotten more attention and refinement.
Let's take a look at this card that has grabbed my attention, hard, right away:
Maybe I just haven't checked around enough on this card, but it seems that this isn't getting the attention (I think) it deserves. When I saw this for the first time, all I could think was...
“...carry the one, divide by zero, add the remainder...”
Both Fauna Shaman and Birthing Pod are cards that saw steady play their entire time in Standard (and have found homes in other formats as well). While I've heard that this card is “too slow,” I don't believe that should keep the card from doing great things.
First, let's address what the card has going against it, as Magic players typically focus on these the moment after that spark of imagination hits when seeing a new card. The first activation is a six-mana investment yet it only nets you a one-mana creature card, so essentially you are spending multiple turns and five mana to gain a small bit of card advantage and make an investment in the future of this card. That's not a very sound investment if time (and your life total) is an issue at all; while it's usual to trade life and tempo for card advantage, you can usually do that at a more efficient rate than we see here with Yisan. Additionally, we have the age-old “dies to Doom Blade” argument, since this creature doesn't do anything when it comes into play. The 2/3 body isn't impressive and it dies to multiple burn spells being played in Standard as well as the new black removal spell Ulcerate (which should have a similar, if less ubiquitous, impact as Lightning Bolt on small creatures being played; get used to hearing “dies to Ulcerate” for the next year and a half).
Another reason I've been excited for Yisan is the incredible card advantage it can generate, similar to Birthing Pod in that it can come down on turn two and put intense pressure on a control opponent; however, this is yet another way that Yisan is definitely not Pod. Sure, a Supreme Verdict will only be a one-for-one if you commit nothing other than Yisan from your hand on the board, but with Pod, you got to keep your advantage engine and start it up against post-Wrath. With Yisan, it's just another verse in “Another One Bites the Dust” instead of a stirring rendition of “I Stand Alone.”
And while Fauna Shaman suffers from the “dies to Wrath” argument, it too is superior to Yisan in that it can go get any mana-cost creature at any point regardless of when you draw/play it. Yisan has to get going all over again, kind of like the super-fast cars in Mario Kart that have lousy acceleration. You can always go fast, sure, but you have to take the time to speed up first.
Whew... with so many negatives where can we find some positives?
Don't worry, my friend... Yisan's got you covered like an order of Waffle House hashbrowns.
While Yisan does take a bit to get going, think of the card like an old lawnmower: takes a while to get cranked, but you know damn well when you get that bad boy running that it's very good at getting the job done until it gets shut off. Once you start accumulating counters on Yisan, every turn becomes a guessing game for your opponent. From the third counter on, you've essentially given every creature in your deck “This creature costs three mana, has flash, and is uncounterable.”
Oh, and unlike Birthing Pod and Fauna Shaman, there are no trades needed. You see, Yisan went to the School of the Hard Knocks (aka The University of Survival of the Fittest) and studied under Fauna Shaman's skilled tutelage, but disagreed philosophically with the need to take something before giving something.
“Why can't we just take the time to do it right, professor? Why can't we just take a bit more time, give the customer what they want when they ask for it without requiring anything in return?”
While Yisan's charitable ideas got the bard kicked out of the Get-And-Give Academy, the time spent there rendered the skills needed to give and give and give again without needing anything from you. You just get to sit back, throw some spare mana his way to entice Yisan to play a song, and BAM!... your order's ready.
Yisan is like the Curtis Loew of Magic: the Gathering; when he has a fifth of mana, he did not have a care... I'd give ol' Yisan my mana, he'd play all day for me.
What's on the set list tonight, Yisan?
At just one mana, we have options; Elvish Mystic is a shoo-in for a deck running Yisan, as it gives us the option of playing a turn-two copy. Activating Yisan for Mystic on turn three gives you additional ramp so you can start activating Yisan while also playing out your hand as well. This is a fine play and will likely happen more often than not in these decks, as keeping your one-mana slot as trim as possible is probably the most efficient way to build this type of deck.
Then, we get tricky... tr-tr-tr-tricky. Faerie Imposter serves as a one-mana rescue spell and, when you consider that it's fully possible to have creatures up the curve that can serve as rescue spells (Quickling, Deputy of Acquittals, Invasive Species, etc...), that's another route we could build the deck. Especially if we include value creatures, as we likely will, which makes hardcasting these rescuers a net positive as we get to re-use enters-the-battlefield triggers, we could look to incorporate this into our strategy.
After that, we have ways to interact with our opponent; having Yisan active in a G/W or G/U deck against an opponent who taps out is going to feel amazing the first time when you get to counter that spell with a Judge's Familiar. Your Jund Monsters opponent getting frisky with that Polukranos? Wasteland Viper has quite the... nasty bite.
And Vortex Elemental? Shoot... if we combine Elemental with Thrull Parasite and Yisan, every two life is another removal spell; we still get to extort to make sure our life doesn't get too low though. (This may seem like a pipe dream, and keeping three fragile creatures alive really is, but one Yisan is enough to find this entire combo. This is likely more in the Matt Higgs realm though, even I know that.)
Great opening act, there, Yisan; whatcha got next for me?
Aegis of the Gods/ Phyrexian Revoker/ Spirit of the Labyrinth
Azorius Arrester/ Leonin Snarecaster/ Tidebinder Mage/ Imposing Sovereign
Deputy of Acquittals/ Quickling
Deadly Recluse/ High Priest of Penance
Here's where I truly started getting excited; once you get past the initial hump with Yisan, when he learns to trust you and trusts that you're not passing him skunk mana, you get to the good stuff.
First, we see a trio of cards with powerful effects that can effectively shut off big plays from your opponent. Opponent casts an Elspeth, Sun's Champion, planning to stabilize with those 1/1 tokens? Respond by getting a Phyrexian Revoker while the Sun's Champion is on the stack.
Rakdos's Return got you down? It's OK, they tapped out for it knowing that Yisan can no longer get a Judge's Familiar, go ahead and get that Aegis of the Gods. Ditto for Warleader's Helix. Sure, Aegis will eat a jet of magma or a strike from a bolt of lightning the next turn, but that's six or seven damage that wasn't aimed at your dome (or Yisan).
That frustrating U/W opponent casting the last card in his hand, Sphinx's Revelation, to blow you out of the water? Eh... not so fast my friend. I think my friends Yisan and his labyrinthian friend would like to have a word with you.
After that, we have some options in terms of “removal” creatures; Tidebinder Mage is obviously great against the right decks and the other three either temporarily take creatures out of the picture or prevent them from hitting you right away.
Deadly Recluse may seem like just another draft common that you've written
Sphinx's Revelation Elspeth, Sun's Champion Thoughtseize on the back of, but you'll love having it when your opponent swings in with their oh-so-mighty Stormbreath Dragon. High Priest of Penance has never found a home, but here's a great chance to sneak one in on your opponent.
After that, we get a few unique effects that are worth mentioning; everyone should be aware of the power of Brain Maggot at this point, and in conjunction with Sin Collector and/or Lifebane Zombie, it could provide quite the curve of disruption in a Junk-style deck. Skylasher is great to tutor up against Mono Blue, even if you're already running four of them. This would be incentive, at least in this deck, to run the Lasher over Mistcutter Hydra.
Finally, we get to one that I think should be a nice inclusion: Burning-Tree Emissary. The investment cost for Yisan to activate isn't small, and it'll take up a lot of your turn to do it over and over. If you play out a turn-two Yisan, get an Elvish Mystic the first turn it's active, and fetch out a Burning-Tree Emissary the next turn, you'll have access to five mana to work with. Even if you don't have a turn-one Mystic and you go the natural route, you'll still have five mana at a minimum with that sequence. It's a great way to deploy some of your hand while still ticking up the clock on Yisan.
Play me a SOOoong Yisan Bard, Yisan Bard; I got your drinkin' mana, tune up your...harp? Whatever man, just give me a three.
Izzet Staticaster/ Lyev Skyknight
Lifebane Zombie/ Sin Collector
Harvestguard Alseids/ Invasive Species/ Oak Street Innkeeper
First, let's start out with the newest three-mana hoser, Hushwing Gryff. I have it on this list, but I'm not sure we want to include it, at least not maindeck. You see, it's great if you snipe an ability from an opposing creature... but this also shuts off a lot of the creatures we want to be playing. I do think it's a solid sideboard bullet to work with, though.
If we've already included Faerie Imposter and Quickling/Deputy of Acquittals, we'll probably be in the market for Invasive Species. Oak Street Innkeeper may seem odd, but if you think about how a sequence might play out, if our opponent plays a Mizzium Mortars or Dreadbore or any removal spell on their turn, activating Yisan for the Innkeeper will give it Hexproof in response. Probably not good enough, but it is an intriguing idea.
Next, we have a couple of possibilities that I wanted to throw out; Marauder is obviously best in a Mono-Black Aggro shell as a great finisher, but in this deck it can also be used to push through one of our larger creatures to finish off a game. Viashino Racketeer gives us the ability to filter through a hand that either has been flooding out or is mana starved. Lastly, Xathrid Necromancer gives us value out of our Yisan if they try to kill it (and we can't save it with another creature), as Yisan is a Human. This could also lead down a Junk Humans list as well with Raise the Alarm, Cartel Aristocrat, possibly the new Souls, Sin Collector... there might be something there. I may have to bust out my Varolz, the Scar Striped playset even!
Then, two cards that have seemingly been forgotten, though I don't know how that could be correct. Giving a Boros Reckoner a 2G mana cost with flash and uncounterability (if only for a very brief window) to ambush your opponent's attack step?! My god...what have I done?!
Amazing. That's what I've done.
And Frontline Medic is a fine body and a fine combat effect in and of itself; but surprise-countering a Sphinx's Revelation? Granted, keeping a Yisan active for three turns against a Rev deck is asking a lot, but even if you just cast this, they have to find a removal spell first for the Medic before they can try drawing out their deck.
People said he was useless, but them people are the fools... cus Yisan Bard was the finest creature to, um, search up more creatures. Yeah, that's the ticket.
Azorius Justiciar/Slum Reaper
Eidolon of Blossoms/ Forgeborn Oreads
Devotion cards (Disciple of Phenax, Fanatic of Mogis, Karametra's Acolyte, Master of Waves, Nylea's Disciple)
Council of the Absolute/ Notion Thief
I'll be honest: even though there are some cool things on this list, the four-mana slot is really where you have to start getting serious with you card selection. You can't afford to have your hand clogged up with situation four-mana creatures like you could a one-mana creature that you could play whenever you got a spare mana. It's not like this is Fauna Shaman where you can turn that card in hand into something different, we're just stuck with it in. (Though the Viashino Racketeer gets better when this is the case.)
So with that said, many of these cards wouldn't make the cut in most decks but they're here to spark some creative thought.
The Constellation creatures might warrant inclusion if we go that route as well; Eidolon of Blossoms by itself will draw us a card and the Oreads will ping something, so they're fine to include even if we just get that interaction. I'd want to build around them some more if I include them, but they don't require a massive deck paradigm shift to get value, which I like.
Next are two sets of creatures that warrant overall inclusion: God cards and the four-mana devotion cards. Almost all of the God cards at four mana warrant consideration, so I won't go in depth on each. The devotion cards also warrant consideration in a deck build to take advantage, meaning I'm less likely to include these (unless I build towards them) than I would be with the Constellation cards.
Clone, Notion Thief, and Briarpack Alpha let us get tricky in the four slot and an end-of-turn Crypt Ghast lets us untap and go nuts. (Urborg is also a thing.) Council of the Absolute has uses, but since you can't respond to a card being cast and getting the Council, I'm not sure it warrants inclusion.
Yisan you're the finest creature to every play the lute...
Prophet of Kruphix
Lavinia of the Tenth
Guardian of the Gateless
Sire of Insanity
Any of the Souls Cycle from M15
Prime Speaker Zegana
Angel of Serenity
Any of the Primordial Cycle
Here's where you have to cull the weak, cut your precious babies, understand that these cards will be retrieved by Yisan far less often than they will get stuck in your opening hand. Include only as many as you feel you want, if you even feel the need to go this far up the curve at all. I'd say six would be a good stopping point, as past that, the Primordials and Angel of Serenity are about all I could see playing (and only one Primordial at that).
Other Cards to Consider
If we play decks that play these colors, I could see including a singleton of each of these, as getting them at the three- or four-mana slot, respectively, is probably one of the best things you could be doing. Having a 6/6 at four mana that doesn't come with the drawbacks of Desecration Demon (while having upside once in play) is nice, and a 4/4 flier at three mana is going to put your opponent in quite a predicament: answer the creature that's putting me further and further ahead each turn, or the creature that's going to kill you very soon?
Full Disclosure: I started working on this article before Chord of Calling was spoiled and thought long and hard about how to incorporate as many instant-speed effects as possible to maximize what I can do when I have to pass the turn with mana up for Yisan. Chord fits perfectly in with this plan and, honestly, while I wasn't sure Yisan had everything it took to break into the mainstream, Chord might just push it over that edge. It took people a while to realize the power of Birthing Pod when it was first printed, and I think Yisan may go that way as well. Just look at how much Chord plays well with Pod in Modern to see how this effect is nice.
So let's see some lists! Isn't that what we're all here for!?
First, we have a Naya list that not only uses Yisan as a turn-two advantage machine but also gets the same out of Domri Rade. We don't have to rely specifically on either one, and our opponents only have so many Hero's Downfalls to work with.
4 Elvish Mystic
1 Wasteland Viper
4 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Phyrexian Revoker
3 Voice of Resurgence
1 Scavenging Ooze
4 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
1 Courser of Kruphix
1 Boros Reckoner
1 Centaur Healer
2 Polukranos, World Eater
1 Trostani, Selesnya's Voice
4 Stormbreath Dragon
1 Archangel of Thune
4 Domri Rade
3 Chord of Calling
4 Temple Garden
4 Stomping Ground
4 Battlefield Forge
4 Temple of Abandon
4 Mana Confluence
2 Temple of Plenty
1 Aegis of the Gods
1 Judge's Familiar
1 Frontline Medic
2 Centaur Healer
2 Nylea's Disciple
2 Boros Reckoner
3 Boros Charm
With this list, we have all of our angles covered for the most part. Yisan and Domri come down early and start churning out advantages – and with four of each, we can reasonably assume that this will happen almost every game. Like the Pod decks of yester-Standard and current Modern, this deck can also play a reasonable midrange game-plan as well even without the Yisan engine going. The sideboard Judge's Familiar may be a bit too cute, but I like most of what's going on here.
What if we cut the red for blue?
4 Elvish Mystic
3 Sylvan Caryatid
1 Scavenging Ooze
1 Phyrexian Revoker
2 Voice of Resurgence
3 Yisan, the Wanderer Bard
2 Boon Satyr
1 Horizon Chimera
1 Fathom Mage
1 Archangel of Thune
3 Prophet of Kruphix
1 Prime Speaker Zegana
3 Chord of Calling
2 Advent of the Wurm
2 Selesnya Charm
2 Sphinx's Revelation
1 Cyclonic Rift
4 Breeding Pool
4 Temple Garden
4 Yavimaya Coast
4 Temple of Enlightenment
2 Temple of Plenty
2 Mana Confluence
1 Aegis of the Gods
3 Centaur Healer
2 Banishing Light
1 Supreme Verdict
Here we have a version that aims to play a more Flash-oriented game-plan. With Yisan, we'll often want to leave mana up for an activation, meaning our turns are taken up by inaction. Here, we have options and we get to keep our opponent guessing.
Prophet of Kruphix feels like it goes really well with Yisan, allowing for twice as many activations and effectively doubling your mana besides. You'll see the Fathom Mage/Horizon Chimera/Archangel of Thune combo in here as well, since we have Chord of Calling and Yisan to find the pieces. This is experimental, but the space needed to include these cards is minimal, Chimera has flash (so it fits the gameplan), and Archangel is a great card anyway. The only “iffy” card here is Fathom Mage, but for the cost of one card you may just have the ability to steal wins out of nowhere.
There are other options, but I think we've already stretched the limits of Yisan. I do believe it's a good card that should find a home, even if the deck doesn't aim to absolutely abuse it. It's good value and I for one want to try it out.
And now, before I head out, I'll let you decide which of my ideas I should flesh out next. I really enjoy doing deep dives into specific cards, interactions, and strategies... plus, spoiler season is my absolute favorite time (as the possibilities feel endless). Here are some that I've had going around my head, which would you like to see? Or, if you have an idea yourself, go ahead and throw that in there as well.
Let me know what direction you would go with Yisan, the Wanderer Bard or some of the ideas in the poll above; I have absolutely no objections with giving credit where it's due if you have a stellar idea. You folks have given me some amazing ideas in the past, I have no doubt you've probably thought up some great strategies already.
I'm looking forward to it and/or them!