Karn, Scion of Urza, History of Benalia, Lyra Dawnbringer, Llanowar Elves, Goblin Chainwhirler, and the rest of Dominaria have had a tremendous impact on the format, no question. However, from where I'm sitting, it sure looks like we've only scratched the surface. Some of the obvious cards have devastated previously existing strategies, and not everyone has evolved and caught up yet.
Today, I'd like to talk about ten of the most underrated cards in Standard, cards that have more meaningful purpose in today's Standard format than people are giving credit. And I'm not talking Dominaria cards people haven't figured out how to use yet, like Lich's Mastery. I'm talking returning stars (or former also-rans).
History of Benalia is an incredibly strong token maker that is appearing in all kinds of decks. When you bounce token-makers with Baral's Expertise, you're getting exile while only paying for bounce. Bounce two tokens and whatever else they might have played, whether it's a Knight of Malice or a Lyra Dawnbringer, and you'll have regained the card advantage you were "sacrificing" to play Baral's Expertise. What's more, you'll get to drop a four-drop for free and completely swing the game in your direction.
To this end, Karn is an especially potent four-drop for combining with Baral's Expertise. To begin with, it's just incredibly powerful and costs four, so already, that would be interesting with Baral's Expertise. Of course, the majority of opponents have Karn, as well, so fighting over Karn is a big part of the game. Baral's Expertise can bounce the Construct, assuming they make it, and can bounce any blockers that would potentially try to defend Karn from your attacks.
Karn's abilities also happen to work well with Karn's Temporal Sundering (imagine that!), not to mention just being an incredibly resilient way to get the legendary sorcery online.
Yeah, Karn's Temporal Sundering is a harder to cast Part the Waterveil, but the free bounce spell we get tacked on for free is actually quite valuable. If you just bounced two Knight tokens and a Lyra Dawnbringer last turn, and then dropped Karn for free, the last thing they're gonna want to see is Karn's Temporal Sundering bouncing the Lyra again, and giving you two uncontested attacks without her around… And that's to say nothing of having your own Lyra Dawnbringer when you Sundering.
This list doesn't have all that many cards made cheaper by Baral, Chief of Compliance, but reducing the cost of Baral's Expertise or Karn's Temporal Sundering can be game-winning.
This list is capable of some pretty devastating plays out of nowhere. For instance, imagine it's turn 7 and you have no non-land permanents. You might flash down Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage, along with a History of Benalia.
After untapping, you'll get your second Knight token already, while being able to attack for five. Add a Karn's Temporal Sundering to the mix, and you're attacking for another eleven before they know what hit them. Of course, depending on the state of the battlefield, you may just want to bounce your History of Benalia in order to make two more tokens.
I could easily imagine Baral's Expertise/Karn's Temporal Sundering decks of any two-color combination or even mono-blue. If we played green, Llanowar Elves and Rishkar, Peema Renegade are both very attractive, and we might be inclined to get Nissa, Steward of Elements back into the mix.
If we preferred black instead, we might consider a Tezzeret the Schemer style of deck (obviously still using Karn), as Tezzeret is great for ramping into Karn's Temporal Sundering and synergizes well with a lot of the same cards we might be interested in because of Karn.
The first card that jumps out at me for a U/R build is Chandra, Torch of Defiance. Chandra has largely fallen out of favor, presumably because of Karn taking her lunch. She's not exactly at her best against History of Benalia or Lyra Dawnbringer anyway.
Nevertheless, she's still a very powerful card and one of the best cards you could put onto the battlefield with Baral's Expertise. Additionally, her mana ability can lead to taking extra turns even earlier than planned, leading to some pretty snowballing battlefield positions.
The energy cards have seemed underplayed recently, and while there are obviously no new ones, it's not like Whirler Virtuoso isn't good anymore...
Having a 2/3 body is great these days, and both it and Baral are complemented by Fiery Cannonade out of the sideboard. Thopters are especially good with Karn, Scion of Urza, as it doesn't take much to want to get onto "The Pack Rat Plan." If you Baral's Expertise, then drop Karn and -2, you're looking good to untap and -2 again. Even if they can kill Karn, the next one is making such large Constructs, and an extra turn is backbreaking.
8. Chart a Course
Chart a Course is a shockingly efficient card draw spell for decks with even a halfway reasonable collection of creatures. Dominaria features a healthy mix of blue creatures worth considering, and as discussed above, the stock of Baral, Chief of Compliance has risen with the advent of legendary sorceries. Baral is a fantastic way to get into the course charting game if you ask me.
The printing of Tempest Djinn is an extremely compelling reason to play all Islands and Merfolk Trickster. Blink of an Eye and Wizard's Retort all add some much appreciated power and flexibility to the color.
One of the most fun Wizards in the deck is the uncounterable Stifle-cantrip, Nimble Obstructionist (take that, History of Benalia trigger!). Nimble Obstructionist only barely missed my list, itself, and the 3/1 flying, flash body is highly synergistic with the mono-blue aggro game-plan. Just watch out for Walking Ballista...
Even though it's the same deck, Ceremonious Rejection deserves its own spot on the list. Between Karn, Walking Ballista, and Heart of Kiran, an absurd number of decks are running colorless cards, and Ceremonious Rejection might actually be maindeck'able. We've even got Chart a Course to put the cardboard to use in spots where it'd be dead; and countering a turn 2 Heart of Kiran is just awesome.
Another way to stop a turn 2 Heart of Kiran, one might reasonably ask
"Why Ceremonious Rejection at all when Spell Pierce is legal?" Well, obviously Walking Ballista is an important part of the equation, but so too are Bomat Courier, Scrapheap Scrounger, Scrap Trawler...Besides, sometimes they've got two mana laying around.
True, but things are often going well when you've got Baral anyway. The ability to Spell Pierce on your first turn, effectively stealing the play, is just awesome; the sequence of Tempest Djinn into Tempest Djinn with Spell Pierce backup is not weak.
With Lyra Dawnbringer and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria hogging so much spotlight, the metagame seems to really be sleeping on Angel of Sanctions. It's not so much that Angel of Sanctions "held onto a niche," but rather that it's better than ever thanks to how well it lines up against the new cards.
Similar to Baral's Expertise, Angel of Sanctions is great at hunting Knight tokens and Construct tokens, not to mention being a great way to go after an opposing Walking Ballista. It's also absolutely devastating against these green decks, and it can actually be deceptively difficult to kill. Even when it does die, however, the embalm ability is quite strong. It's like we're paying one mana to draw an extra card and that extra card is always Angel of Sanctions. Just watch out for opposing Nimble Obstructionists...
Angel of Sanctions can make an excellent sideboard card against green and white creature decks, as demonstrated in Zan's list above. These sorts of decks generally want the ability to go a little bigger after sideboarding anyway.
That said, I could see the metagame moving in a direction where Angel of Sanctions gets played maindeck more often. I'm talking alongside Lyra Dawnbringer, not necessarily in place of. It's even an Angel, so it gets powered up by Lyra!
By Force and Release the Gremlins are a couple of extreme anti-artifact cards that have new purpose in this world of Karn Cconstructs. It's not just Karn either. There are a growing number of decks with 12-24 artifact creatures, not to mention vehicles left and right. Cards that can kill multiple artifacts are definitely of greater interest than before.
While I don't think we're likely to see much of this stuff maindeck, stranger things have happened. I just think a lot more decks should be playing some mix of three or four of these cards in their sideboards.
It doesn't have the ability to clear the battlefield like By Force and Release the Gremlins, but Manglehorn might be of increased interest too. Killing something on the way in is already appealing, and making the next Karn token enter the battlefield tapped ensures Karn is at greater risk on your next turn. In addition to being a castable option for non-red decks, Manglehorn might be especially well-suited to a G/B or G/W deck featuring Adventurer's Impulse.
Profane Procession has dipped in popularity, thanks to History of Benalia making the three-slot one with steeper competition. While the format is actually a little worse for the card on a single card basis, as a color combination, W/B is one of the defining color combinations of the format.
You didn't think I was just going to write an article and not include a Lich's Mastery deck, right? They don't know, yet… but they will...
I swear, it seems like people have forgotten just how incredible of a turn 5 play Liliana's Mastery is!
Yes, a lot of Zombie support rotated out. That's true. However, they still have some good cards.
I'm not even sure we're supposed to be playing this many of the mediocre Zombies, particularly Mummy Paramount. They don't exactly line up that well in the format.
Besides, Liliana's Mastery is so good, we might be able to play it without any other Zombies. Getting a pair of 3/3s is great when everyone else is building a pair of 2/2s. Hell, we could play it alongside our own History of Benalias if we wanted.
The world got so fixated on Vraska's Contempt they seem to have forgotten the card exists. Now, granted, Vraska's Contempt is a better card. No question. The thing is, with Karn, Scion of Urza, Ravenous Chupacabra, and potentially even Gonti, Lord of Luxury, black decks are incredibly tight on space at the four spot on the curve.
It's not just that Never costs three in a world where everything you want to play costs four. Never was substantially weaker against Hazoret and The Scarab God, both of which have fallen out of favor (at least relatively speaking).
I'm torn on Liliana, Death's Majesty versus Liliana's Mastery in this deck. I think if we could find the space to go up to a playset, and maybe added even one more set of Zombies, we might prefer the Masteries. Never even makes a Zombie token!
As it stands, however, Liliana is probably the better option. Getting back Ravenous Chupacabra or Dread Shade is great, and she's an excellent way to follow-up a Karn and keep the pressure on. She's also great at bullying opposing Karns, as she can keep the token-making up much more effectively than Karn can.
Well sure, but for starters, there aren't as many black decks as there should be. Besides, I think there should be a lot more maindeck Duresses. Between History of Benalia; Karn, Scion of Urza; Teferi, Hero of Dominaria; and Heart of Kiran, there are targets everywhere. Besides, some of the threats, these days, are extremely nice to force through. There are so many 4s, 5s, and 6s that will take over the game if unchecked. A single Duress substantially decreases our opponent's ability to check us, and even if they've got more defense available, we can play accordingly.
Yeah, some Llanowar Elves decks are going to have relatively few targets. That's true. However, they usually have something, whether it's Adventurer's Impulse, Growing Rites of Itlimoc, Heart of Kiran, Karn, Teferi, Ixalan's Binding, Fatal Push, Vraska's Contempt, Blossoming Defense, something.
And if they don't?
How are they going to stop you anyway?