Draft only. Can you believe this actually used to be a Constructed-worthy card? It was a Top 8-worthy finisher in control decks back in 1997.
While part of a bunch of janky Modern and Legacy combos, I don't think Arcane Adaptation doesn't offer much in Standard at the moment. If you try to do something like name Merfolk to power up your Deeproot Waters, your profit comes from each creature you cast after that wasn't already a Merfolk. However, what about the games where you draw the Deeproot Waters without Arcane Adaptation (let alone the other way around)?
Really, what we want to be doing is finding a way to exploit the type-hacking to create some loop (like the aforementioned Modern or Legacy decks, such as alongside Xathrid Necromancer and Blasting Station).
Cancel is often maligned, but it's really not too bad a card. Obviously, Disallow is strictly and meaningfully better, but plenty of decks have been in the market for five or more three-mana Counterspells. Maybe we're in the market for Supreme Will or something, but if we do want a hard counter, Cancel is the next-best one (the alternative is Disappearing Act).
The new Hero's Downfall, Vraska's Contempt, is absolutely excellent. The two life we gain helps make up for the extra mana, particularly when we're replaying it with Torrential Gearhulk (a trick Never // Return can't even do, which is the real alternative).
Vraska's Contempt even exiles, which is important for interacting with The Scarab God, Scrapheap Scrounger, Champion of Wits, and more. The catch, of course, is that we can't just play all four-cost cards. However, the printing of Search for Azcanta alleviates our "need" for Glimmer of Genius.
Search for Azcanta is one of the most powerful cards in Ixalan, and I think a step up from Glimmer of Genius. Right from the jump, we're getting to scry every turn, except with the added benefit of stocking our graveyard.
Field of Ruin is absolutely fantastic. Ghost Quarter and Tectonic Edge were both underestimated, and Field of Ruin is absolutely comparable (and is actually better for control in the format than either of them would be).
Whether maindeck or sideboard, Spell Pierce is generally a stronger card than Negate. The prospect of countering someone's Attune with Aether or Search for Azcanta is definitely super-attractive. It's also particularly awesome for combating opponents slowplaying their hands in order to play around Censor.
Planeswalker deck card, far outside of Constructed.
Even if you were to never "kick it," Chart a Course is better than Tormenting Voice (a card that has been a regular fixture in competitive Standard). Getting to choose what to discard after is a big upgrade, and you don't lose the card if the spell is countered.
That you can actually attack to make it a draw-two pushes Chart a Course into elite, cross-format all-star territory. A lot of decks we cover today will feature Chart a Course, but here's one to start.
The mana might be stretched a little too much here, but it's not yet clear the best way to capitalize on Deeproot Champion.
Opt is getting a lot of hype, but the card is aggressively mediocre. It's playable, don't get me wrong. It just seems like people are expecting it to be the second coming of Preordain (which it's not). Probably the most natural home for it is in U/W Approach.
Getting to loot with every hit is a pretty solid way to start building a snowballing advantage. The ability to convert extra mana into unblockability is pretty appealing too, though there are a lot of different options competing for our discretionary mana.
A lot of these creatures are going to appear in a lot of the decks we're looking at today, so let's run through the shell quickly.
Plenty of one-cost blue fliers have been good enough, and Siren Stormtamer has a better ability than most, in addition to being the best way to enable Lookout's Dispersal.
With an almost Faeries-esque disruption and annoyance package, Pirates also has some solid discard, such as Kitesail Freebooter. It's more limited in what it can snag than a Mesmeric Fiend; however, flying and a relevant creature type make the card a more meaningful game piece on the table.
Hostage Taker is like Faceless Butcher, except it can also hit artifacts…oh, and it can actually outright steal the creature, if you ever untap or even just have extra mana lying around. This card looks excellent to me.
Deadeye Quartermaster has a tough road to walk. If it had cost three, it would at least be comparable to Trophy Mage, possibly better. However, at four, it's probably doomed to too much competition. Maybe it's supposed to help pull together a dedicated Consulate Dreadnaught deck?
A thorough examination of the Merfolk tribe can be found here. The short version is that I'm not a believer, yet; however, here's an attempt at a truly dedicated U/G Merfolk deck (despite Winding Constrictor being the best "Merfolk").
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Herald of Secret Streams
- 4 Kumena's Speaker
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 River Sneak
- 3 Shapers of Nature
- 2 Vineshaper Mystic
- 2 Kopala, Warden of Waves
If we can assemble enough Merfolk we're happy to register, River Sneak is a powerful threat (if glass cannon).
It synergizes well with Deeproot Waters, quickly functioning as a 3/1 or 5/1 unblockable attacker.
Pretty mediocre, even in an explicitly Merfolk-centric build, but at least it's a little disruptive, I guess.
See, this is my issue with the Merfolk. I'm not trying to harp on them too much; it's just that they have to work so hard just to approach how good many other cards are to start. They have a lower floor than Winding Constrictor and a lower ceiling.
It's hard to get too excited about this as a way to punch through with how many other Merfolk are also unblockable. It is a pretty potent end-game punch, however, and there's no reason it needs to be in a Merfolk deck. It could just appear in a Winding Constrictor deck capable of casting The Scarab God.
We could try Depths of Desire as a form of interaction for some ramp/combo hybrid deck, though I'm more curious about how to stack it with all the other Treasure cards to build a dedicated Treasure deck. After all, Depths of Desire is a great way to set up Spell Swindle…
You can sacrifice each Treasure for four life loss, so it takes just five Treasures to win the game (usually).
Scry 1 helps set everything else up, of course, and when it flips, we're a lot of the way towards any of our various Treasure kills. Besides, this card is just sweet! I just hope Search for Azcanta doesn't push it entirely out of the format.
A very modest card, but what power points it does have are very efficiently distributed. A 1/4 blocker isn't necessarily the worst, and ramping into five in a nongreen deck could be sweet.
While I did not include any in the above list, Deadeye Plunderers is also an option. It's quickly going to become an 8/8 or whatever, but sadly, it costs five, making it hard to fit.
A modest trick that doesn't necessarily have to be Draft only. It's not Blossoming Defense, but it does a lot of the same things.
There are a variety of ways to put Dreamcaller Siren to use, but they mostly revolve around Pirate decks full of evasion, looking to tempo people out. One of the more interesting possible paths to go with that is to make use of Favorable Winds.
You have to be really into it being a cheap Pirate with evasion, but if you are, Storm Fleet Aerialist is here for you. It's pretty mediocre, though.
Yeah, obviously Blight Keeper is almost surely Draft only; however, I appreciate cards with useful novelty, even when they are of modest power level and fringe application, with novelty in an unassuming form. In fact, understanding how to use those cards is often the most satisfying.
Blight Keeper's novelty is in being a 1/1 flier for B (and with upside!), which black doesn't normally get. Blue and white? Sure, but this is unusual for black.
Even though the list isn't all Pirates, we could potentially use a Pirate's Cutlass or two, to help give it some staying power for the non-Favorable Winds games.
- 4 Daring Saboteur
- 4 Siren Stormtamer
- 4 Slither Blade
- 4 Storm Fleet Aerialist
- 4 Baral, Chief of Compliance
Okay, well, you definitely don't want this Jace. Go back to the other one, at least!
This isn't even close to enough payoff to get us to want to play Jace, Ingenious Mind-Mage. Hell, you might not even want to play it, even if you had to shuffle up a Jace, Ingenious Mind-Mage, anyway!
Eh, look, it's a theme deck card; no one expects it to be good. It is important to know it exists, though. You never know...
While surely rancid in Constructed, it is a two-card combo kill with Fraying Sanity. It's also a really big game with Apocalypse Demon, if your Demon happens to be attacking, too (and you remember to target yourself).
Well, maybe it'll be possible to build a worse mill deck than the aforementioned Fleet Swallower deck.
Look, this is not where you want to be.
This card has been good before, but that format had Geist of Saint Traft. In today's Standard, the hexproof creatures are much worse and more expensive. Besides, Cartouche of Knowledge would probably be a better way to do this sort of thing.
In the same set as Tishana, Voice of Thunder?
It's weird that there are so many versions of the same thing in this set. I guess this one is potentially playable, too. I'm not sure who is looking for this version, though. If you're not bouncing your own stuff anyway, it is better than Disperse, though.
There are just so many other four-cost options, but if Pirate's Prize shows up, it's probably in U/W Approach, a deck that appreciates a draw-two and appreciates ramp.
Draft only, unless we can do some crazy stuff with Anointed Procession.
A standoff-breaker great for exactly the kind of games Standard generally hasn't been lately.
Pirates get 2/1 flying with upside for two. Merfolk get 2/1 flying with a drawback? Being a Merfolk would have to be worth quite a bit...
Probably Draft only, because while this is a pretty useful ability and the condition is not hard to meet, the 2/1 body without evasion is just too outclassed by everything. Yeah, yeah, yeah, it's a Pirate.
- 4 Angel of Invention
- 4 Champion of Wits
- 4 Hostage Taker
- 4 Minister of Inquiries
- 4 Seekers' Squire
- 4 Shipwreck Looter
- 4 Trophy Mage
I sure keep trying to like the taste, but I should have taken a trial bite.
Synergizes with stuff (Fell Flagship, Lookout's Dispersal, Skyship Plunderer, Explore payoffs, etc.); however, it just doesn't have enough rate to work with. Would probably have gotten there as a 1/1 flier for two.
Siren's Ruse is an interesting possibility for Pirates decks. Lots of Pirates have sweet enters-the-battlefield abilities. We could try grinding out little edges, resetting stuff like Kitesail Freebooter or Hostage Taker, or...
Dire Fleet Ravager is challenging to use for a couple of reasons. First, to get the most bang-for-the-buck out of the enters-the-battlefield trigger, you generally want to not be prioritizing attacking early. In additionally, the card rewards us for paying life liberally, whether by taking hits or paying it to draw cards.
However, once Dire Fleet Ravager is on the table, we want to try to get the game over with as soon as possible. Our life total will be much lower, and the 4/4 menace body is going to need some help. However, if we blink the Dire Fleet Ravager with Siren's Ruse, now we're really giving our opponent headaches.
I guess it's another option, besides Herald of Secret Streams; for our Merfolk deck to use in the "four-cost and not possibly as good as others' fours" slot.
Even setting aside Merfolk being bad (at least, so far), Watertrap Weaver is sadly only a 2/2, instead of a 2/3 like Stitched Mangler. As such, even if/when Merfolk are eventually good enough, they are unlikely to be bringing Watertrap Weaver with them.
Draft only (and quite weaker than Dreamcaller Siren).
Arguel's Blood Fast seems like a really inefficient and dangerous way to draw extra cards. It's not like Greed was some excellent card, and by the second card you draw from Arguel's Blood Fast, you've already paid as much as you would have with it (and falling behind). Even when the card flips, it's not like you're even doing anything special.
Yeah, I guess it's possible some B/x control deck might want to sideboard Arguel's Blood Fast against control, but I'm not super-excited about it. About the best I got is using the card alongside Axis of Mortality.
Someone's gotta pay for all this blood.
I'm guessing Draft only, despite how much it may look like it might be one of those Gray Merchant of Asphodel types. It costs two mana more than the Elf version did, and we need a lot out of our five-drops these days.
In an effort to try to make the card work, I built a token-heavy Vampire deck:
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 2 Bishop of the Bloodstained
- 2 Bloodcrazed Paladin
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Legion Conquistador
- 4 Sanctum Seeker
- 4 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
However, Bishop of the Bloodstained isn't even the best five-drop Vampire we could be playing.
Sanctum Seeker is kind of sweet, definitely punishing opponents for a lack of removal. Obviously, the card doesn't compare well to Hellrider, but it's a different color, it's legal, it does gain life, it's got a little extra body, and if we're actually into all these Vampires, it has an even bigger impact (assuming we get to untap).
Bloodcrazed Paladin is a really cool card that isn't always a two-drop. It does add a lot of dimensions to the deck, however, flashing down to trade with a hasty Earthshaker Khenra, following up an opposing Fumigate, sneaking some two-for-ones against an opponent that used removal pre-combat, and more.
Remember, Yahenni, Undying Partisan is a Vampire, too!
Here's another attempt at Vampires, this time a little less Bishop-y.
- 4 Metallic Mimic
- 1 Bloodcrazed Paladin
- 4 Duskborne Skymarcher
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Legion Conquistador
- 4 Sanctum Seeker
- 4 Mavren Fein, Dusk Apostle
It might be too fancy, but I am actually kind of into Legion Conquistador. It's kind of expensive and clunky, but if we can just find some kind of Equipment or something to turn it into a real threat, I think we could actually be getting somewhere. I guess Legion's Landing is sort of that, and Mavren Fein; I'm just talking about something building an advantage besides just more tokens.
Boneyard Parley is a little ambitious in a format with Approach of the Second Sun. I guess it could be a part of some weird reanimator deck, as it does have a huge impact. It's just that lots of cards have an enormous impact on the game for seven (or much less). The opportunity cost is a big part of the equation. It's possible, but I'm not holding my breath.
It might be sweet, if the format had stuff worth spending five mana to kill and stuff that cost eight worth ramping into. Unfortunately, the format is balanced around hyper-efficient linear aggressive strategies (like Winding Constrictor, Toolcraft Exemplar, and Longtusk Cub); snowballing card advantage engines (like Rogue Refiner, Whirler Virtuoso, Chandra, and Glorybringer); ultra-low opportunity cost interaction (Cast Out, Abrade, Torrential Gearhulk); and trivially easy inevitability (Ramunap Ruins, Approach of the Second Sun, etc).
Mostly for Draft and Sam Black, but it's possibly a part of some Kari Zev's Expertise deck or some such.
Totally respectable option for various Aristocrat-style creature decks.
We've talked a lot about Pirates today. What about Deadeye Tracker's role as an Explorer?
I do think Lurking Chupacabra is better than it looks, but not enough to make this path particularly appealing.
Okay, back to Pirates.
Fathom Fleet Captain is sort of like a Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, except every time you do the thing, you're drawing a Pirate. It could be decent, but it's paying us in stuff we've already got instead of spreading around our advantage. Still, here's an attempt:
One card I am very excited about here is Heartless Pillage.
I'm not sure if we can really maindeck it, but on the topic of Pirate two-for-ones, March of the Drowned seems pretty decent. There are a lot of Pirates that can interact and are well worth getting back.
As reminiscent of Cryptbreaker as this ability might be, Deathless Ancient has very little chance of getting there in Constructed. Tapping three Vampires to draw a card would already be a pretty weak ability, but in this case, the card you draw is always a 4/4 flying creature for six, which is at least two mana more than we'd even consider paying.
This one looks pretty goofy, but I could actually imagine being in the market for a defensive two-drop for a less aggressive Pirate deck, and this being an option in the running.
You have to work really, really hard to make Grim Captain's Call a draw-four in the current environment. Maybe you're supposed to only play four Merfolk or something, but what we're really missing is good self-mill. Without it, we're just not that likely to draw all four types. Of course, if there were creatures with two or more of the relevant types, that would help, but there are none in Standard (yet).
- 2 Bloodcrazed Paladin
- 1 Carnage Tyrant
- 3 Deadeye Tracker
- 2 Deathgorge Scavenger
- 4 Gifted Aetherborn
- 4 Kitesail Freebooter
- 4 Merfolk Branchwalker
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
- 3 Tishana's Wayfinder
- 1 Yahenni, Undying Partisan
Draft only, unless we're really in the market for Vampires (and probably not in white, since we'd have to make our way through a lot of Bishop's Soldiers and the like first).
For those times when Heartless Pillaging alone isn't enough.
This deck is a great example of trying too hard to adhere to a theme instead of just playing with good cards that synergize well together. Why, oh why, are we cutting The Scarab God for Raiders' Wake? Oh, we fancy?!
Ruin Raider has potential in very aggressive Pirate decks, but I've cooled a little on the card. It doesn't actually line up very well against the removal or cheap creatures in the format, and I'm not sure we can actually maindeck it. Still, it's an option to keep on the table, whether main or sideboard.
A better rate that most of these kinds of cards, but still not likely to be enough to entice us. We'd have to be thinking an awful lot of combat interactions are coming down to exactly enough damage in two places. Otherwise, it's basically an inefficient removal spell or combat trick.
I guess this is ostensibly for Draft, in order to have some way to remove the cards that flip into lands. Seems dubious there, and doubly dubious in Constructed.
Browbeat's back, baby!
While cheap black removal is harder to come by these days, Vanquish the Weak isn't really cheap. Most of the creatures it kills are cheaper than it, and even then, it's unreliable. For instance, if you're on the draw, Winding Constrictor might already be a 4/5 before you've even had a chance to Vanquish it.
If you're just super in the market for Vampires, Vicious Conquistador is obviously the one-drop option for black. It could also find a home in mono-black aggro without the white splash.
Walk the Plank is pretty good, if you can handle it being double black and sorcery-speed. Here's an example of a more well-rounded use of the card:
Wanted Scoundrels has a pretty steep drawback if you're not up to anything. The undercosted 4/3 body is also not particularly well-built for the format, dying to Fatal Push, Lightning Strike, Abrade, and so on.
In theory, we might be looking for a hyper-aggressive black two-drop and getting extra value from the Scoundrels being Pirates. Depending on what the next set brings, we might even have a way to punish an opponent for playing artifacts. For now, however, I'm skeptical...
Okay, that was a lot!
Coming soon: the Grand Finale, including a Grixis deck the likes of which the format couldn't possibly be prepared for...