The fact that we are now seeing bans in Standard and, in some cases, emergency bans, means one thing: Pandora's box has been opened. After several years in exile, the idea of a regular Standard ban has returned, which makes the more-frequent ban announcement schedule a cause for concern for a format that once felt insulated from this development-oriented correction.
With that potential, each of us here at StarCityGames.com® were, in an oversimplification, given one instruction for our content this week: Watch out for cards that could be banned.
Well, were they?
Combatants of Modern and Standard tournaments respectfully had seen their fill of these two format-defining cards and, in the event that either of them might be splintered by the BanHammer, we steered clear.
No problem for me; Modern's usually at the back of my mind anyway, and I'm just as sick as you of testing against turn four Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.
With no new Hour of Devastation previews, though, I'll have to move towards something untouched, yet safe. Well, maybe that's what we were supposed to do.
Instead of just choosing a safe path to follow, I wanted to go really rogue. This was an opportunity to take our editor Danny West's words to heart: What he said was "tread carefully," but what I heard was "who knows what they'll ban, steer clear of anything playable by a sane individual, Matt." Don't blame me; some things just get lost in translation.
I'm writing this before we get the big news of a Mythic Rare ban in Standard, or potentially, before we hear tthe sound of silence and the pitter-patter of falling tears of Standard Magic players sitting down on Friday for another game against a sea of NIAMs: Non-Interactive Aetherworks Marvel. That being said, the cards (yes, cards) I'll be working with today are going to do their thing regardless of a ban.
That's right, folks; it's monument time!
The God-monuments in Amonkhet have a casual player's face drawn all over them. Casual players like cost reduction. Casual players like cool effects that happen just from playing Magic. Casual players like artifacts. What's that? All players (who started playing after the Mirrodin development fiasco) like artifacts? Fine by me.
To a serious player, these monuments are everything a Magic card shouldn't be. They're bad topdecks. They don't immediately impact the battlefield. They're bad in multiples. Cost reducers are traditionally bad with a few rare exceptions, e.g. Goblin Electromancer in Storm. They can't attack or block. Yeah, I hear you. But there's another benefit to the Monuments that we're missing: monetary cost.
The monuments incline a player to play spells that align with the color of the cards they're playing. While the trigger occurs for all creature spells, the cost reduction applies specifically to one color. Thus, playing a mono-colored deck makes more sense if you want to use some deck real estate impacting specific colors. For players who work on a budget, not spending money on a pricey mana base and powerful multi-colored cards is an important consideration. Mono-colored decks have often appealed to that segment, and while Standard is, in general, quite inexpensive, not having to pick up four Wandering Fumaroles and four Spirebluff Canals is tempting.
Both the cost reduction and the cast trigger of the monuments leave the door open for some fun brewing potential. Different creatures within those colors line up well with their monument's effects. That being said, some monuments are, "strictly" speaking, more playable than others. Thanks to a considerable amount of brewing and grinding with each of the five monuments, I've saved you from the hassle of figuring out which those are!
So out of the five, which one is the worse? If you look at the side by side, it shouldn't come as a surprise.
As a general rule, blue creatures are among the least efficient in combat. Blue creatures have utility, or some other positive qualities that make them worth playing over instants, sorceries, or the planeswalkers for which the color is best known. Although previously, efficient blue fighters have existed, this Standard doesn't feature any. Thus, blue creature cost reduction is kind of lame. Moreover, Kefnet's Monument's trigger is perhaps the narrowest, requiring your opponent to control a tapped creature, something that you can't very well control. It'd be one thing if the monument tapped it for you, but in lieu of that, we have to provide the tapping ourselves.
We got it.
A Spirit-based plan lets us get the jump on our opponent; getting their creatures sideways means we can keep them tapped, and flashing in creatures of our own means we can work an end step effectively. Reducing flash creature costs makes them much easier to play, and the ability to trigger any monument ability instantly seems helpful. If you put the trigger on a creature to prevent untapping, you can then tap it and the "doesn't untap" effect will actually matter.
We have a critical mass of Spirits in blue, and together, they can form an interesting deck.
Metallic Mimic seems like a card I'm happy to play when we have one creature type dominating the base; moreover, it can be effectively targeted by Essence Flux, which also helps any of my team dodge Fatal Push, Harnessed Lightning (no energy for them, either!), or even a Sweltering Suns, if the rebounding creature is then large enough to survive the hit. Gift of Tusks
Also, Skyline Cascade, how you feel?
So this deck is cute, but it felt a big weak. Without Spell Queller, Selfless Spirit and gang, you're just playing a bad Spirit deck. I'd rather go a bit bigger.
Trophy Mage, just like Trinket Mage and Treasure Mage before it, is a 2/2 for three mana that finds a specific cost of artifact. Trophy Mage, in this case, finds any of the five monuments. We can play less of them, give Trophy Mage juicy targets besides Kefnet's Monument, and build a deck that cares about getting on the board, tapping things down, and if it's important, untapping things, too.
Energy also gives blue an additional dimension, and with enough support, you can actually be very efficient with your threats, card draw, and the way you interact with your opponent.
- 2 Foundry Inspector
- 2 Hedron Crawler
- 2 Walking Ballista
- 1 Aethersquall Ancient
- 4 Elder Deep-Fiend
- 4 Glint-Nest Crane
- 4 Janjeet Sentry
- 1 Quicksmith Spy
- 4 Trophy Mage
- 4 Vizier of Tumbling Sands
- 1 Kefnet the Mindful
This one looks like more fun.
The interaction of tapping, untapping, and pressure via cards like Elder Deep-Fiend mean this deck can keep the tempo real. These cards are perfectly fine even in a low creature-count deck; the draw power this deck can produce helps keep it relevant, even if you're forced to outpace removal or a control finisher. Several cards interact well; Vizier of Tumbling Sands can untap anything from a Janjeet Sentry to a Deadlock Trap, or whatever you've targeted with your Quicksmith Spy. Kefnet, the Mindful, allows us to rebuy Skyline Cascades, and Ghirapur Orrery lets us play two at once, keeping your opponent a step behind. The deck needs only one Kefnet's Monument, as Trophy Mage can go find it.
This one plays better, too, with more reliable Elder Deep-Fiend, and more permanent, flexible pressure. In my testing, I found the numbers changed a lot, and I opted for consistency over power (hence the Hedron Crawlers). The deck produced plenty of energy, and I loved the combination of Decoction Module, Fabrication Module (tutorable with Trophy Mage) and Walking Ballista. It let me play out my hand and build up a beastly Walking Ballista, ready to pick off creatures I didn't want to use tap abilities on.
I'm happy with both lists, considering they're based on a pretty lousy monument. There's probably room for more fun, but for now, we'll stick to this.
So what's the fourth best?
Don't get me wrong, I like free token producers as much as the next guy, but with fewer ways to leverage the extra creatures, like improvise or convoke, I'm a little less interested. Still, one card might bring me around to this monument.
For W, you can play a 2/2 and bounce another white creature, which you can then recast, getting two tokens in the process. Not too shabby. If, of course, you get two Aviary Mechanics, you can pay as much W as you have to get as many tokens as possible. Not to mention revolt triggers…hmm…
This exceptional card-drawer is only mediocre as a product of its environment; alongside the likes of Puresteel Paladin, Sram, Senior Edificer is clearly a winner. Still, we're going to need cards to fuel our cheap, white spells, and the Equipment and Auras I use, if leveraged correctly, can really drive the deck. Oops, there was a chance for a Vehicle joke there; "drive?" Do I change the whole deck to…nah.
Hmm, I guess that's two Dwarves. Maybe there's something to this plan?
Let's light the fire!
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 4 Aviary Mechanic
- 2 Fairgrounds Warden
- 2 Restoration Specialist
- 4 Solemn Recruit
- 4 Toolcraft Exemplar
- 1 Oketra the True
- 2 Sram, Senior Edificer
Toolcraft Examplar has plenty of artifacts to pair with, both Equipment and non-Equipment artifacts. Solemn Recruit, perhaps the best finisher this deck could ask for, is a Dwarf and, when it hits you, it's going to pack a wallop. Fairgrounds Warden, this season's Fiend Hunter, is also a Dwarf, and the Auras and Equipment make it a little less shrimpy.
Stitcher's Graft is a cheap artifact for either Sram, Senior Edificer or Toolcraft Examplar, but with Sandstone Bridge, vigilance means your creature doesn't tap to attack, making it all the deadlier. Plus, combined with the plentiful double strike in this deck, this one-mana artifact adds six power. Here, the tokens are more to keep the pressure on after your real team dies, and I think that's a fine use of the 1/1 warriors. The deck is fairly aggressive and consistent, and it does allow for those fun, Magical Christmasland moments. Turn one Toolcraft Examplar, turn two Metallic Mimic, turn three Solemn Recruit as a 3/3, turn four Trial of Solidarity plus Gryff's Boon, attack for twenty-one? Got 'em.
Choosing the middle monument was tough, but I'm going to base it off lowest potential as opposed to lowest playability. Still, it's close.
This card was a mystery for a while, and I've built three completely different decks trying to figure out the right plan to make the deck fun, consistent, and powerful. Ultimately, though, I landed on a deck with artifacts and a name appropriate for the monument we're including.
Ways to create creatures and ways to burn them for value with Zulaport Cutthroat and other draining mechanics seems like a simple, synergetic way to get your opponent from twenty to zero. Every part helps drain life and helps you cast things that drain life.
It used to be that Geist-Honored Monk, Cloudgoat Ranger, and Pia and Kiran Nalaar were the most powerful thing you could be doing with your mana. Multiple bodies for the price of one used to be the best deal going, and I think that, with a Blood Artist lookalike running around, we should give it another shot.
This six-mana rare's no Grave Titan, but it is Wrath-proof; that is, even if your opponent sweeps the board, you're still doing something. If you don't have to go wide and fabricate, Marionette Master basically reads, "whenever an artifact you control is put into a graveyard, target opponent loses 4 life." That's a lot, right? If you're already working on their life total, this can finish the job. This deck's artifacts are sacrifice-ready, either because the deck only needs one in play at a time, or because they can come back later. Or you make a lot of them.
The deck isn't particularly surprising, but it is effective. It's easy to get everything online that you need, and each part of the deck can pick up the slack of the others. With protection from niche players like Declaration in Stone (just sacrifice the target!), this is a token deck with pushing and staying power.
The best two monuments, in my opinion, are worth some extra time, especially the best of all. Assuming we don't get some saucy previews from Hour of Devastation!
The monuments are blank canvases; low-power, but surprisingly versatile to build a deck around. Have you found a sneaky way to use the cost reduction or the triggers to come up with something spicy?