There's a new kid in Standard Town, and it goes by the name Amonkhet. Now, folks 'round these parts normally don't take too kindly to strangers, but word has it that some of the locals are sick and tired of Battle for Zendikar and the Oath of the Gatewatch Gang. This pack of hoodlums has terrorized the residents of Standard for far too long, and it's become apparent that they won't be leavin' without a fight. Bit by bit they've taken over this fine format, and even turned the locals against one another. Now, Amonkhet didn't come lookin' for any trouble, but trouble sure did find it. Standard's not big enough for the both of 'em. It's high noon in Standard, and we know exactly what that means. Time for a good old-fashioned shootout!
Now, the good folks of Standard Town conduct themselves in the most civilized of manners. When it comes to fightin', they do it like the fine gentlemen they are, not like those yokel Modern folk down the road. No, the upstanding residents of Standard carry themselves with dignity. That's why you won't be seeing them in the streets, just shooting up the place. This battle will honor the ways of old. Two-card draw. One walks away with a sleeve, while the other goes home in a bulk binder. Now, kick off your boots and stay a while, 'cause it's gonna be a hog-killin' time 'round here!
The Standard Showdowns
Channeler Initiate might start out knee high to a grasshopper, but this little sprite will eventually start thumping about. The only thing keeping Servant of the Conduit out of the round browns in this fight is its tie to aether. Servant of the Conduit and the rest of the Energy Enterprise have taken a hold on Standard like few mechanics have before its time. Whether you like it or not, energy isn't going anywhere. It's above one's bend to assume Channeler Initiate has what it takes to get priority over Servant of the Conduit. Maybe we'll see some decks not wanting energy, but they probably also won't be needing mana acceleration either.
Channeler Initiate dies to not having good enough friends.
Sticking to green two-drops, we've got another feud brewing in Standard Town. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons was destined to lead a midrange platoon to its manifest destiny, but Winding Constrictor's got other plans. This ace-high Snake has already pushed Grim Flayer out of the format, so it knows a thing or two about being better than mythics. Hapatra, Vizier of Poisons and its pack of negative-counter Cats is just a step behind the proactive power of +1/+1s. Rishkar, Peema Renegade; Verdurous Gearhulk; and Walking Ballista are just too powerful to be reckoned with.
Both die to Fatal Push.
Now, Stasis Snare's been 'round these parts for some time, buts it's about as hopeless as a broke man talkin' to a bartender. That card has hornswoggled its way into this format with nothing to show for its efforts. I'm shocked people even played it to begin with! Cast Out, on the other hand, has what it takes to run these mean streets of Standard. Sure, it might be a bit stockier in the cost department, but you get what you pay for. Being able to turn anything into a memory is something this format has been missing for some time now. Cast Out's ability to get a move on and cycle when it's not needed is some spot on self-evaluatory motivation more cards in Magic need. This fight's not close. Cast Out is in prime position to be sheriff one day.
Stasis Snare dies from being so bad in the first place.
It's been many moons since Standard Town's had a good red sweeper. Radiant Flames had its time in the sun, but Sweltering it was not. Sweltering Suns is exactly what this cowboy's looking for when dealing with troublesome tumbleweeds. The card does exactly what you asked of it, and then it offers more, as you can cycle it away when its services are no longer needed. Kozilek's Return will still see play over it in decks that want to cast Eldrazi, but Sweltering Suns is the go-to when you've got a pest problem. I expect great things from this card and can't wait to see it bring some much-needed life back into U/R Control decks.
Radiant Flames dies of old age.
All right, all right, all right, I can't keep doing this Western schtick.
It was fun in the beginning, but at this point I don't even know what half these words actually mean. These past two shoot-outs were pretty half-hearted as well. I just threw in a random “cowboy” to stay on-theme. I'm just “shooting blanks” at this point, so to speak. One might even ask why I started the day with this in the first place.
I don't even know if I could answer that question. I guess I'm just bored not knowing what's going to be banned, if anything, and I just wanted to entertain myself. Is that too much to ask?
Anyway, back to the show.
The Adventures Continue
Angel of Sanctions appears to have the exact stats it needs to be too fair to function properly in Standard. At five mana, it competes with far too many cards in all the other colors it could pair with, and it even gets pushback from Archangel Avacyn in its own color. Four toughness means it will be getting hit hard by cards like Grasp of Darkness; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; and Glorybringer. With only three power, it can't even hit that hard when it's not getting removed. Clearly the card does have some things going for it, like being able to handle any nonland permanent and the Embalm for some much-needed virtual card advantage, but it just doesn't have the other stats to make it exceptional. Archangel Avacyn is exactly that, which makes me believe we will see the flippity-flop Angel do most of the heavy lifting for this color until it eventually rotates later this year.
Angel of Sanctions dies of overdevelopment.
Artifacts have proven to be a problem in Standard, making removal for them exceptionally relevant. Release the Gremlins has proven itself to be a very effective spell, as it swings battlefield superiority in your favor, which is relevant in Standard. I could see a card like By Force being much better in Modern, where battlefield position isn't always that big of a deal, but Release the Gremlins will continue to be a great sideboard card in Standard as long as artifacts keep a stranglehold on the format.
By Force dies of cuteness overload.
This fight almost seems too close to call. Both do the same thing for three mana, but both have a unique “mana sink” ability with small relevance to a game. Never//Return allows you to produce an early 2/2 and sometimes remove a relevant spell from an opponent's graveyard. Thus far, the only things worth removing have been Scrapheap Scrounger; targets for Grapple with the Past and Liliana, the Last Hope; and maybe a card that's giving an opponent Delirium.
That's all well and good, but not that impactful for the steep cost of four mana. Sure, it's better than nothing when that mana was going to waste anyway, but that's not enough to edge out Ruinous Path. I'm under the impression that the late-game 4/4 with haste is going to have more upside in most games, but there is a chance that split cards and Embalm have a larger impact on the format. If this is the case, then I could see Never//Return being the better removal spell, but I honestly don't think that will be the case.
Truthfully, both cards aren't really good enough as long as Heart of Kirans are still flying around.
Both die to Murder.
I was just saying to my fictional friends the other day that Standard needed another black planeswalker with recursive abilities, and won't you look at that, Wizards provided! Liliana, Death's Majesty comes into Standard in a unique place, since it might not hit as hard as Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, but in all honesty, I've always thought people turned that planeswalker into a creature far too often. Being able to produce a miniature defensive army does have its perks in Standard.
Costing five mana might end up being a little too expensive for that effect, but that's why Death's Majesty has another interesting effect. In combination with her first ability, Liliana, Death's Majesty can recur a premium creature for any given board state. We've already seen how well Liliana, the Last Hope works with Ishkanah, Grafwidow, and Liliana, Death's Majesty doesn't even make you cast the Spider-mobile! That being said, Liliana, the Last Hope's ability to come down early and pick off an early aggressive creature does have its merits. My gut says that both will see very limited play, given the restrictions the format has set and how powerful other options are, but if I had to guess which one will break through for the spotlight, I would go with…
The Bandits from Modernville
This is the part of the article where I make up some fictional story about how three cards from Modernville sneak into Standard Town during all the commotion in the attempts to take over. It's a plot device to allow me to transition away from comparing cards from Amonkhet with only cards in Standard, since some of them have no good comparisons.
There's a lot of talk about Harsh Mentor and how it might finally give red decks some legs in Standard. I'm not one of them buying into the hype. Red's gotten the shaft in Standard for some time, and I can't tell you just why. Each set seems to have a handful of playable cards, but none for the hyper-aggressive strategies that red mages are known to love. Sure, those aggressive elements exist each and every time, but they never seem to go anywhere. This set is much of the same.
Harsh Mentor looks like it could be good, but it will end up being just as bad as the rest of the red cards WotC pushes down our throats each set. What red needs is cards on the same level as Goblin Rabblemaster, Eidolon of the Great Revel, and Stoke the Flames to be good in Standard. I seriously don't know why they won't print these types of effects, but I at least know that's what it's going to take to make red be a base color once again.
Maybe we need Tibalt to join the Gatewatch for the color to finally get the respect it deserves!
The more I think about it, the more it might have to do with how easily good red cards get slotted into older formats like Modern. Maybe adding too many good red cards could mess with that format, but I don't think that is a risk they would even be considering. Honestly, I just don't get why red cards have to suck all the time!
Harsh Mentor dies of disrespect.
So maybe not all red cards are that bad. Just like how I complain all the time about red-based decks getting now respect, I also rant to a ridiculous degree about how every Standard format should have a good hasty Dragon. Standard's healthy when cards like Stormbreath Dragon are good, and I'm always happy with how fair but powerful the decks cards like this go into look. Glorybringer is going to bring the pain, but also a whole new archetype with it. It's a great card that adds complexity to a game on a magnitude of levels and will be just as challenging to play with as it will be to play against. I look forward to our new Dragon overlord and expect this card to become the best hasty Dragon Standard has ever seen!
Stormbreath Dragon dies to Unrelenting Force.
Let's be honest and say the haste of Monastery Swiftspear is better than the additional text on Soul-Scar Mage by a large percentage. Red needs to attack, simple as that. Sure I can see how this ability will help burn-based red decks deal with bigger creatures in combat, but that isn't enough to make a burn-based aggressive red deck just appear out of thin air. The supporting cast for Soul-Scar Mage in Standard is laughable at best right now, and I'm pretty sure this card can't pull off the “Lebron James of Magic” look either. Maybe Wizards will wake up and start pumping up the heat in Standard in the upcoming sets, but for right now you just have to accept that you won't be sleeving more than a handful of Mountains when you want to get aggressive.
Soul-Scar Mage dies of loneliness.
It seems like, every other year, a card like Failure//Comply comes into existence with over-hyped expectations. Sure this “effect” was initially interesting in the early days, but much like Sarah Jessica Parker's career, it's gone on for far too long at this point. Even Matthew McConaughey knew when it was time to up his rarity after being stuck in such a lackluster genre for so many years. You always think this card will do what it's intended to, but you'll inevitably be saying, “All right, all right, all right, it resolves.”
Both died of dysentery.