Scourge is a nice break in the junk that Legions brought to Standard. Unlike the previous set, Scourge contains multiple playable cards, even in a set stuffed with overpriced cards. Over the next few pages, I will be going over which cards are good, why they are, and which decks can best utilize them in the world of Standard.
Keep in mind that Scourge does not become legal in Standard, or any other format, until July 1st. That means the World Championships will be the only major tournament to use it. Since most people are not going to Germany this year, I have focused on a few cards in Scourge that might not be that great now, but could be after Odyssey cycles out.
In any case, enjoy.
Control decks are notorious for having problems with recursive spells, such as Hammer of Bogardan. With Astroglide having a really tough time against these control decks, it desperately needs something to force Psychatog, Wake, and others to repeatedly waste their counterspells or removal on it. Eternal Dragon does just this. In the early game, the Dragon cycles to find a Plains, helping to set up a situation where Eternal Dragon can be recurred every turn. While powerful, the recursive ability will not end games by itself, as Psychatog has access to Coffin Purge through Cunning Wish in the sideboard. Still, look for Astral Slide decks to run a few, as Eternal Dragon is never a dead card, even against creature decks.
Astral Slide has a dismal matchup versus MBC because of two cards: Mind Sludge and Haunting Echoes. Gilded Light can protect the Slide player from both of them. Unfortunately, most of their sideboards are already loaded down with land destruction in order to handle control matchups, making it a tough fit there. Gilded Light does cycle, though, giving it maindeck potential, if the Light can find some space among the ranks of Renewed Faith, Slice and Dice, Lay Waste, and Starstorm.
Faces of the Past
Scourge's card most likely to be broken is not Upwelling. Faces of the Past just begs to be an engine in a degenerate combo deck. However, with Standard's limited card pool and Psychatog around, such a combo deck is not likely to ever show up. Even so, keep this card in mind for possible later use in Standard and Extended.
Hindering Touch is cute, but too inefficient to be played in any serious constructed environment. Although it technically counters any spell unless its caster pays four mana, that still does not make the Touch playable. If, however, the Standard metagame ever gets bogged down with control decks in the next sixteen months, then Hindering Touch will have a niche to fill, able to counter entire stacks full of spells, thanks to the storm mechanic.
In Extended, Psychatog decks often run a Vampiric Tutor in their sideboard, fetchable via Cunning Wish. Vampiric Tutor can then get an Upheaval or Psychatog, setting up the Hatred/Wrath of God/Armageddon-style combo. Although control decks do not like to play anything with card disadvantage, Vampiric Tutor is an exception, simply because it can end the game in a turn.
Back in Standard, today's Psychatog has no way of finding Upheaval, beyond digging through the deck with Compulsion. While Long-Term Plans is slower and more expensive than Vampiric Tutor, it will nevertheless find a space in Psychatog decks that run Cunning Wish. Three turns may seem like a long time to wait - but with Compulsion, that time can be drastically cut down.
Like Long-Term Plans, Stifle should find a place in sideboards as a Cunning Wish target. There are plenty of cards with good abilities to be countered in Standard, including the fetchlands, Madness spells, Lightning Rift, Astral Slide, Storm, Cabal Coffers, and Decree of Annihilation (more on that later). However, none of these warrant any maindeck use of Stifle. That said, sometimes these abilities just need to be countered, like when a Red deck cycles the said Decree against a Psychatog player. With control decks having no real way to deal with abilities in the maindeck, a Wished-for Stifle can provide a cheap and effective way to deal with a number of cards.
Either strong removal in the early game or a simple cantrip later, Unburden is the strongest discard spell printed since the Odyssey Block. Speaking of the Odyssey Block, sadly it was loaded down with anti-discard abilities in Madness and Flashback. Standard has been chock-full of these abilities for the past year, making any non-targeted discard spell virtually useless. After they leave Standard, though, Unburden will be free to unload on its opponents. Watch for it in next year's metagame.
Decree of Annihilation
Forget Decree of Annihilation's main ability; Armageddon is now a cantrip, albeit an expensive one. Costing seven mana will keep the Decree from ever receiving broad range play. Instead, Decree of Annihilation will be an important part of Astral Slide's sideboard. With a real weakness to any form of control decks, Slide is always looking for ways to deal with them. This Decree may be the ultimate solution, giving an uncounterable way of imposing Armageddon on them - a traditionally strong spell against control.
Despite the fact that R/G Beats is superior to Goblin Sligh in practically every way, some still insist on playing it. Good bears are always important to beatdown decks, especially in Red where they are hard to come by. While Goblin Brigand comes close to being an acceptable version, Skirk Marauder and Goblin Raider just do its job much better, leaving the Brigand out of luck.
Unlike Goblin Brigand, Goblin Warchief is one of the best Goblins to be printed in a while. Some truly ridiculous things can happen when a Warchief is in play, especially with Goblin Piledriver and Goblin Goon. However, it does not make Goblins any better in comparison with R/G Beats, which is essentially Goblin Sligh with better creatures and Violent Eruption. R/G does not exist in Onslaught Block Constructed, though, so Goblin Warchief is free to enhance an already powerful deck, and can even come out on the second turn with a Skirk Prospector.
Look at all the maindeck cards decks have in Standard that cost three mana or less. Keep in mind a card with flashback always has a converted mana cost of the number in the top right hand corner, and a face-down creature has one of zero.
- Force Spike
- Innocent Blood
- Chainer's Edict
- Circular Logic
- Cunning Wish
- Basking Rootwalla
- Grim Lavamancer
- Llanowar Elves
- Skirk Marauder
- Volcanic Hammer
- Wild Mongrel
- Call of the Herd
- Elephant Guide
- Exalted Angel
While it will be hard for any of the aforementioned decks to break Pyrostatic Pillar simply because they all run tons of cards that can trigger it (with the exception of Astral Slide), the Pillar is just asking to be placed in sideboards. Look for R/G Beats to try and utilize it there, as any extra damage dealt to it control or combo opponents is highly sought after.
Experiment: failed. Less than a year ago, Quirion Dryad - a card similar to Forgotten Ancient - was around. In Extended, it dominated as Tropical Islands allowed for the Dryad to join in together with cantrips. On the other hand, in Standard, Quirion Dryad never really caught on, even with Yavimaya Coast around. Forgotten Ancient is merely a much slower version of the Invasion block rare. To compensate, it became a 0/3 body and has two more abilities. However, in a world of mana efficiency, any player would much rather have the cheaper card than the extra abilities. Look for Forgotten Ancient to be a flop, so try to trade them away while they still have hype rare status.
Having an opponent play at least one spell on their third or fourth turn is usually the norm in Standard, making Sprouting Vines effectively search for two lands. That said, Krosan Tusker does a similar job, but has much better returns. Unlike Sprouting Vines, the Tusker does not always pick up lands, but spells as well. Additionally, it can be used as a 6/5 creature in a pinch. Even the times when Sprouting Vines does find three or more lands, players will be wishing it was the Tusker, as Plains, Islands, Swamps, Mountains, and Forests do very little good when a player needs to find answers to opposing threats.
Every set has a hype card that turns out to be a complete flop, and Scourge's is Upwelling. There are better ways of generating large amounts of mana in Standard, particularly Mirari's Wake, which leaves Upwelling without a home. If a deck is ever centered around Upwelling, though, look for it to get its opponent to float twenty mana before Disenchanting the Upwelling, resulting in massive mana burn.
Standard's only true control deck, Psychatog, runs tons of creature kill. As a 0/1 flyer, Xantid Swarm's best use is as a stopper to mono-Blue control decks. These two facts lead to an uncomfortable fit for the Swarm in the Standard environment. Nevertheless, Xantid Swarm might deserve another look when the Odyssey block rotates out and different control decks pop up in a post-Psychatog age.
Stabilizer is hardly the bane of Astral Slide decks that it has been touted as. In order for Stabilizer to be any good, it must be run in numbers. Astral Slide, though, makes up a small percentage of the Standard metagame. There is simply no deck willing to waste four sideboard slots against Slide, even if it means winning that matchup one hundred percent of the time. Even so, look for Stabilizer to appear in Onslaught Block Constructed, as Sligh desperately needs a way to deal with cycling decks.
Overall in Scourge, Astral Slide is the biggest winner, even in the face of Stabilizer, as it has at least three cards that can easily fit in to the deck. Next, Psychatog picks up two cards in Long-Term Plans and Stifle that should find a space in its sideboard, where Cunning Wish can find them. Other than those two decks, however, there are only a few cards that will find themselves going into decks. Pyrostatic Pillar may replace Compost in R/G and Goblin Warchief will go into a tier 2 or 3 deck in Goblin Sligh. Beyond that, though, Upwelling and Faces from the Past could have combo decks formed around them. Still, even with so few good cards, Scourge is a blessing in the wake of Legions.