Ahh first impressions.
The first tournament with a new set is always a fun experience, and SCG DC did not disappoint. The Sultan of Sultai Gerard Fabiano took the whole thing down with his very interesting Sultai Control deck, and all throughout the top 64 decklists, Fate Reforged cards made their mark.
Last week we took a look at cards I felt were being over and underrated, and this week we can put that theory into practice. While I went with old reliable U/W Control and didn't play many new cards, thirteen rounds of play and a lot of observation has left me with a pretty good feel for the new cards in the format. Let's see what kind of impressions they made.
Last week I called Tasigur one of the best cards in the set, and after playing against him I can safely confirm that belief.
Tasigur is really really good.
While Tasigur can come down as early as turn 3 with some help from Satyr Wayfinder and friends, what impressed me the most was how he could come down on turn 5 or 6 with enough mana open to use his ability. This meant that he was always good for a two-for-one, as even if he died on the spot you would be able to use his ability to draw a spell.
Tasigur provides a big body with a fantastic lategame card draw ability but also provides a ton of deckbuilding tension.
Tasigur seems perfectly suited for a control deck. He is a cheap and well-sized win condition that can come down in the midgame while still leaving mana open for counterspells. On top of that, his card draw ability is fantastic and can be used every end step while you leave mana open for counterspells, much like Azure Mage. The issue, however, is that the current crop of control decks are all interested in being creatureless. Standard is awash with creature removal, and by not playing any creatures you get a huge game 1 advantage against decks with useless removal spells. Playing only one really good creature is just begging to have it be killed by the many removal spells likely stranded in your opponent's hand. This leaves Tasigur stuck in control sideboards, waiting to come out for game 2 and 3 when your opponent has boarded out their removal.
The other tension that Tasigur creates is that you really want to play him in a deck full of high impact spells so that when you activate his ability, your opponent has to give you a powerful spell. If you want to ramp to Tasigur with Sylvan Caryatid, or fuel his delve with Satyr Wayfinder, you are playing him faster but making his ability much worse. While you can delve away some of the bad stuff, you can't clear everything away.
Tasigur is an extremely powerful but difficult to use card, and it is likely going to take a while for us to fully wrap our heads around how to use him properly.
While my perception is a bit skewed because the cards that were very good against me were naturally good against control and may not be as good in other scenarios, Flamewake Phoenix seemed awesome.
In the last round of day one, Richard Nguyen ranched me with his Mardu Midrange deck based around the flying army of Flamewake Phoenix, Ashcloud Phoenix, Stormbreath Dragon, and Butcher of the Horde. While his deck seemed a bit top heavy, Flamewake Phoenix was great, especially in conjunction with Butcher of the Horde.
The ability on Flamewake Phoenix is a bit hard to trigger, but when you are able to, it is leagues better than the former Standard staple Chandra's Phoenix. Being able to come right back into play for only one mana is a big game, and I see Flamewake Phoenix doing a lot of work over the next year or two. It is even possible it could seem some play in Modern alongside Vengevine.
Ugin was the talk of the tournament, and while he was very good, I don't think people are using him properly yet. There were a lot of green decks trying to ramp him out very quickly, but then losing all of their Courser of Kruphix and mana accelerants when they -Xed Ugin.
While Ugin is a very powerful card, he is not the kind of card that just wins you the game on the spot; I'm very wary of what these decks are trying to do, as once the format beings to coalesce and all the decks get better, just casting Ugin and killing your mana accelerants will likely not be good enough.
However, decks like Gerard's Sultai Control seemed to be making very good use of Ugin, using him as an all-upside way to control the board and lock the game up. I didn't play any Ugin in my U/W Control list this weekend, as he does not play well with Elspeth and makes Banishing Light unplayable, but it is definitely something I will consider for the future.
I feel like I was right on the money with Monastery Mentor - playable but underwhelming. All tournament I kept talking to people about him, and the general consensus was that he was fairly underwhelming. He is obviously capable of doing his thing and making a nice big army if left unopposed, but he is so fragile that he would often just die without doing much.
The biggest issues with Monastery Mentor are twofold. The first is simply Goblin Rabblemaster. Goblin Rabblemaster is a much better Magic card than Monastery Mentor, and both occupy a very similar design space. This means you probably want four Goblin Rabblemaster first, and then it becomes an issue of wanting to go the extra mile to make Monastery Mentor actually work in your deck.
The second issue is that the cards that are good against Monastery Mentor are also very good against the cards you typically expect to surround him with. Raise the Alarm and Hordeling Outburst are very likely cards to see paired with Monastery Mentor, and cards like Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow are good against the whole lot. While Monastery Mentor fits the theme, he fits it too linearly and doesn't really add much to the whole.
I'm still not a fan, and while maybe people just aren't using him correctly, I'm pretty low on Monastery Mentor.
Not gonna lie, I missed the boat on this one.
Frontier Siege is a very powerful Magic card and one of the breakout cards of the tournament. It was used in decks like Mono-Green Devotion and G/B Constellation to power out their mid and lategame threats, providing a very steady stream of mana.
The biggest issue with the card is having enough to do with the mana, and the card didn't impress me a ton out of Mono-Green Devotion. I did lose to the card directly, as on my turn 7 I cast an End Hostilities with two mana open and passed the turn. My opponent was able to cast two Nissa, Worldwaker on turn 7 to overpower my counterspell in a situation where if I had been allowed to untap, I probably would have put the game away. Despite being good in that scenario, it didn't really seem like the deck did enough with the mana to really be worth it.
The G/B Constellation deck, on the other hand, has Eidolon of Blossoms to provide it with a nice card draw engine that makes excellent use of the mana while also having a big time Hornet Queen endgame.
I'm honestly still on the fence with this one. The card is definitely very powerful, but very powerful mana engines are only as powerful as what you can use them to cast. Lion's Eye Diamond is an absurdly powerful card in Vintage and Legacy but would see zero play in Standard. I'm also very excited to see where this card ends up.
Outpost Siege was a card I saw on the spoiler that looked pretty sweet, but that I sorta just glossed over. Then I saw it in play at SCG DC and learned that it can target both creatures and players with the Dragons mode - I thought it was just players.
That's pretty awesome.
There isn't really any sort of Aristocrats-style deck in Standard ( though Sam Black is trying), but if there were, Outpost Siege would be an extremely easy inclusion. Being able to ping your opponent for each creature that dies is pretty good, but being able to Mogg Fanatic when each of your creatures dies is an easy way to completely take over a board.
On the flip side, Outpost Siege is a much harder to kill Chandra, Pyromaster. The zero effect of Chandra is quite good, but it was often hard to protect her in a longer game to really make solid use of it. Outpost Siege is much less vulnerable as an enchantment and can provide you with a one-sided Howling Mine as long as your spells are cheap enough to cast more than one in a turn.
Considering both sides of this card would be playable in decks that wanted the specific effect, the versatility of having both is pretty awesome. I expect this card to be a player for the duration of the format.
Our next card was perhaps the most far reaching.
Valorous Stance was the only card to sell out at the StarCityGames dealer booth. It was perhaps the most widely used of all the Fate Reforged cards. It's not really surprising why, as it is an extremely versatile card that can fit into many decks. Logan Mize didn't use it in his W/U Heroic deck that he made top 8 with, which is a bit surprising, but it could be found in all sorts of decks over the weekend.
Having a removal spell that is not dead against control decks is a huge boon, and having a removal spell that costs less than three mana and can kill bigger creatures is a major upgrade from the usual suite of Hero's Downfall and Abzan Charm.
Valorous Stance is now a big part of the format, and something we are going to need to take into consideration when we build our decks. Creatures with toughness 4 or greater just got a little bit worse, and we need to be a bit more careful about letting our opponents untap before we cast our removal spells. Don't be caught offguard by Valorous Stance!
Soulfire Grand Master is the kind of card that should not be mythic. It is solid, it does what it does, and that's that. It's a role-player, a utility card, and not really 'mythical' in any sense of the word.
Besides awkward rarity, Soulfire Grand Master saw quite a bit of play in DC. It was most often seen in R/W Aggro and Jeskai Decks, as the most relevant of her abilities is definitely turning all your burn spells into Lightning Helix and Warleader's Helix. However, in aggressive decks like those, her activated ability is almost an afterthought, as you will rarely have enough mana to make it work.
But don't be fooled, Soulfire Grand Master doesn't always need to be played alongside burn spells:
While giving a Dissolve or Dig Through Time lifelink doesn't really do too much, Soulfire Grand Master could also come in against control mirrors, as post-sideboard games against control are usually devoid of creature removal. Games in control mirrors go very long, and I was able to buyback key spells quite a few times. Don't be overly swayed by the fact that you never get to buyback a Lightning Strike in your R/W Aggro deck; if you have the manabase for it, Soulfire Grand Master can certainly be a card advantage engine where she needs to be.
Our Standard format is starting to take shape, and Fate Reforged has been one of the most interesting sets in a while. None of the cards are obscenely powerful, but many of them are subtlety powerful, and the best way to use them isn't yet clear. The best way to find out is just to get in the trenches and keep on battling.