Standard hasn't been given much of a spotlight lately. From the most recent Pro Tour being Modern to the recent unbannings of both Bloodbraid Elf and Jace, the Mind Sculptor, all eyes have been on the Modern format. That's not a coincidence.
It's a surprise to exactly no one who plays Magic on a regular basis that Standard has been pretty mediocre over the last few years. Big changes have come time and time again as Wizards of the Coast kept bringing the hammer down on problematic cards, all with the intent of balancing out the format. But every time a new set came out, or a new set of cards were banned, something else would take the reins and beat us over the head until we decided to...well...play more Modern.
But for the first time in a long time, Standard is actually pretty awesome. All it took was banning ten cards in the last two years. Regardless, what we have now is a Standard format that looks great while also giving players the ability to choose between a number of different strategies. There are still some powerful annoyances like The Scarab God that can ruin any good game, but that just means we need to make sure we can answer it. And if I've learned anything over the last month of playing Standard, it's that people are coming ready to fire at The Scarab God with all they have.
But while Standard hasn't had much of a tournament spotlight, there are still a lot of people playing it on Magic Online, StarCityGames.com® Standard Classics, and writing about it. I've tried out a number of strategies myself, but I still haven't found that special something that is right for me. But I have learned a lot, and today I'm going to share with you some of the most underrated cards in the current Standard.
I want to be clear: these cards are not "unknown gems that no one is playing." These are cards that crop up now and again, in small numbers, and are generally pretty powerful. Many of these cards have also seen a lot of play in the past across various archetypes, but the deck they called home was dismantled thanks to bannings or rotations. And while some people still play a few of these cards, I think these eight are being criminally underplayed. Even decks that are playing one or two should likely move that needle to three or four. Regardless, let's go ahead and jump right in.
Split cards rarely have trouble finding a home, especially so when they are as powerful as something like Cut. The front half is a very solid removal spell, while the back half can end the game on the spot if it goes long enough. And in this format, games tend to be on the longer side unless you're playing with or against Mono-Red.
I think the part people are scared about the most in regards to Cut is that it doesn't exile, and is fighting for space with both Abrade and Harnessed Lightning. I could be wrong here, but I would be very happy playing three of this card in any B/R/X strategy, and especially so if I were playing with an aggressive slant to my deck. All these Grixis Energy decks seem like a fine home, but there is only so much room for removal. Fatal Push and Harnessed Lightning make fitting this card into the mix quite difficult, but I think it deserves a second look.
I would look to find a home for this card in a deck that doesn't really care about energy, so that it won't sit on top of Harnessed Lightning. Alongside Abrade and Fatal Push, it could fill up your removal suite nicely. I'm looking at you, Jund Monsters guy.
This green sleeper was my pick to straight up replace Rogue Refiner once it got the axe from Temur Energy, but it didn't really pick up steam. The exile ability goes well with non-exiling removal like Harnessed Lightning, giving you a one-two punch for killing The Scarab God permanently.
But more importantly, Deathgorge Scavenger gives your green deck the ability to contain your opponent's graveyard without investing very much. There are so many decks in Standard that use the graveyard, even if only for one or two small things, and a single Deathgorge Scavenger can ruin those plans. There are so many creatures with embalm or eternalize that playing Deathgorge Scavenger alongside normal removal just seems like a no-brainer.
It also attacks for four damage a turn for three mana. Against a control deck, it can help close the game quickly alongside one other threat, all while keeping their Search for Azcanta from flipping or shrinking their targets for Torrential Gearhulk. Against aggressive strategies, gaining two life for exiling a creature is also huge. This is especially relevant when trying to race Hazoret the Fervent or creatures that keep you from blocking. And when you're pairing your removal with Deathgorge Scavenger against something like Mono-Red or Mardu Vehicles, they're usually forced to kill it on the spot. Otherwise, the four or more life you gain with it will steal game out from under them.
Blossoming Defense is a card close to my heart. Ever since I started playing Infect and Bant Heroic, I was hooked on cheap cards that could protect small (but important) creatures. And while Blossoming Defense is a card strong enough to see play in Modern, I really didn't expect it to fall so much out of favor in Standard.
But I think that tide will turn soon. Exiling creatures is all the rage right now, thanks to our good friend The Scarab God (and his pals Hazoret the Fervent and Rekindling Phoenix). And because you need removal that can exile creatures, the removal tends to cost more mana. How much of a blowout do you think it would be if your opponent tapped four mana for Ixalan's Binding or Vraska's Contempt, only to get wrecked by a well-timed Blossoming Defense?
But cards like Blossoming Defense are only as good as the creatures it's protecting. Creatures like Merfolk Branchwalker dying is whatever, but when you can keep your Glint-Sleeve Siphoner or Electrostatic Pummeler alive for one more turn, the damage is likely already done. I will say that Blossoming Defense is a card that is usually pretty weak when you draw multiples, but the first one is going to be phenomenal. And if you're playing a deck with one or two very important creatures, a single Blossoming Defense can be the difference between losing and winning a match. Not every green deck is going to want Blossoming Defense, but the card is too good to stay on the sideline much longer.
If you can't exile'em, steal'em. Confiscation Coup was one of the stronger top-end plays from Temur Energy but nearly fell off the map when Rogue Refiner and Attune with Aether got banned. I think people are under the impression that you need a lot of energy for Confiscation Coup to be good. You don't.
By itself, Confiscation Coup will steal most creatures. And, if you're really hurting to make it into a Control Magic, just come ready with two or three other ways to gain small amounts of energy. Aether Hub, Harnessed Lightning, Glint-Sleeve Siphoner, and Whirler Virtuoso are all fine energy-based cards that can be played outside of a true energy sub-theme. Any of these cards paired with Confiscation Coup will take most creatures in Standard.
One of the biggest blowouts in "fair" Magic is a two-for-one trade. Those two-for-one trades are even more devastating when you gain a significant battlefield advantage. Confiscation Coup probably won't see a ton of play because of the five-mana cost, but I do think more blue decks should be playing two of them in their 75.
While Liliana, Death's Majesty hasn't lived up to the hype just yet, I think the current Standard format is ripe for her return to glory. Five mana to return a creature from your graveyard to the battlefield is on-par with mana cost these days. You just need a way to get something into the graveyard. Luckily, Liliana, Death's Majesty can also get that done for you while producing some 2/2 bodies to protect herself.
While black is fighting in the five mana slot thanks to The Scarab God, a few copies of Liliana, Death's Majesty can go a long way. But again, the effect of returning a creature from the graveyard to the battlefield is only as good as the creature itself. And with "exiling" being the new craze (sing it!) thanks to The Scarab God, you might not have anything sweet to bring back if you don't put it there yourself.
What I love about Liliana, Death's Majesty is that it can bring back a creature while producing a must-kill threat. Bringing back The Scarab God leaves you with two permanents that will effectively end the game if your opponent doesn't kill both of them immediately. And if your deck is chock full of cheap removal like Fatal Push, the odds that your opponent can kill The Scarab God and then attack Liliana, Death's Majesty is pretty low.
There are so many good creatures in Standard right now that "do something" when they enter the battlefield that I find it surprising that more decks aren't playing Liliana, Death's Majesty. Even if all you do is make a 2/2 Zombie before it gets hit by a Vraska's Contempt, you're still leaving behind a body that can pressure a Planeswalker or protect you from an opposing attack. On top of that, if you end up milling over something like Champion of Wits for later, you start to create a lot of lasting card advantage as the game goes long. The value is there! We just need to find the best shell for her.
With Ixalan block having a big focus on cards that transform into lands, and those lands having awesome abilities, I think most people are aware of how good Field of Ruin actually is. What people don't know is how to build their deck in such a way that they can play four copies without it hurting their ability to cast their spells. Playing three colors usually puts you out of contention of playing Field of Ruin. Playing two colors in a color-hungry deck like Merfolk makes that dream a bit more difficult. But that's the rub. Not every deck is going to be able to play Field of Ruin. But that doesn't mean more decks shouldn't try.
Right now, combing through Magic Online decklists, I see a ton of people playing Search for Azcanta, but that's just one of many important lands that you need to be able to interact with. Field of Ruin is already seeing a ton of play in Modern, but that's because Modern is a format where your lands are incredibly important (and there aren't a ton of basic lands to search out). Field of Ruin is a great answer to a growing problem, and one that can be adopted in just about any strategy, so long as you're willing to make sacrifices on what spells you put in your deck.
Decks with significant color requirements will have a very tough time implementing this card, but I'm also finding a ton of other strategies that could easily adopt one or two copies of this powerful land. And while it won't always be worthwhile, and will occasionally hurt your ability to cast spells, I think it more than deserves some attention in Standard.
Gonti, Lord of Luxury has often been a phenomenal card in midrange matchups, and right now is no different. With games going longer and creatures generating small advantages here and there (think Explore), you're going to be playing against opponents who want to make it to the long game. After all, how else are you going to dominate your opponent with The Scarab God if you can't make it to the late game?
When everyone is trying to go big, you should start playing cards like Gonti, Lord of Luxury to punish them. Take their Torrential Gearhulk. Take their Glorybringer and bash their head in with it. Hell, take their Fatal Push and kill their Glint-Sleeve Siphoner. Gonti, Lord of Luxury is also a pretty fine card in tandem with Liliana, Death's Majesty. Talk about value!
While people have been playing Gonti, Lord of Luxury in Standard since it was printed, I think right now is a prime time for it to shine. You get card selection, card advantage, and a decent body to block (and trade) with just about anything in Standard. That's a great card at four mana if you ask me.
I'm surprised that Hour of Promise isn't seeing more play, but I think it will be one of the breakout spells in the coming weeks. For one, if games are going longer, that means you want to play cards that gain you card advantage, mana advantage, and build towards winning a long game. Hour of Promise also creates blockers, threats to pressure Planeswalkers, and pumps you all the way up with four permanents to trigger the city's blessing alongside Arch of Orazca.
With so many lands in Standard that could give you a slight edge (Ifnir Deadlands, Scavenger Grounds, Arch of Orazca), having a card that can tutor them out is pretty awesome. While you will need to be playing a healthy number of Deserts in order to get the Zombies, many of those Deserts are quite good. Some cycle, some hit your opponent's graveyard, some kill creatures, and so on. Figuring out the right Desert count and which ones to play, will be key in making this card perform at an optimal level.
While we're no longer going hard with Hour of Promise to fetch two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, topping the game off with a hardcast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger, we can still find a lot of ways to make it useful. Arch of Orazca seems like the most profitable way to gain advantage by having a lot of extra mana, but I could see playing a couple of small packages that combo well with Hour of Promise that allow you to do other things. For example, you could just use Hour of Promise to fetch two lands that produce an off-color, which then allows you to cast something like Nezahal, Primal Tide. Perhaps not exactly what we will want, but you get the idea.
Cards that ramp for two lands are traditionally good in Standard. Cards that find any two lands and put them directly onto the battlefield is almost unheard of.
Well, that's all for today. I hope you enjoyed reading about these underrated cards. There are so many new things to explore in this Standard format, and I want to try them all! My next project? It will likely look something like this (spoiler: Dr_Smiles is a genius):