Standard is great.
A healthy Standard format is the only one among the major formats that shows real week to week movement. So far in Dominaria Standard, we've had three best decks - U/W Control, W/B Aggro, and R/B Aggro - and it's only been a few weeks! Every week new tech pops up to answer the previous week's tech, which sees the format evolving even further.
Heart of Kiran, once a pillar of Standard that had been mostly left behind, has returned with a vengeance as well as a murderer's row of Dominaria cards all making immediate impact on many different decks. We've got new decks, new versions of old decks, and old decks that mostly remain intact and are still competitive.
Most important, however, is how important new technology is.
As decks shift, the valuation of cards shift as well. Being on top of what cards are one step away from the spotlight is essential for not falling behind, and finding those cards requires careful observation of the format's current trends. Very often identifying these cards serves to augment decks that are already doing well, but occasionally a few of them can come together to form a new deck that attacks specific holes in the metagame.
Here are six cards you need to have eyes for in Standard, because they're all uniquely well-positioned and excellent tools for any deck that can cast them.
As we said earlier, Heart of Kiran has seen a major resurgence, and with it has come a bevy of other artifact synergies. With Heart of Kiran and all its artifact friends on one side of the format and an astounding amount of enchantment-based removal like Seal Away and Cast Out on the other, it has gotten to the point where it almost feels right to just play Fragmentize or Naturalize in your maindeck.
Furthermore, Heart of Kiran is a card that demands an answer but also brings with it a very common cast of characters - namely lots of aggressive three-power creatures. Scrapheap Scrounger, Toolcraft Exemplar, Greenbelt Rampager, and Goblin Chainwhirler are all commonly seen riding in the Heart of Kiran and all get stonewalled by a three mana 3/4. Furthermore, Lightning Strike, Fatal Push, and Abrade are some of the most commonly played removal spells in the format and can't touch the big Dinosaur without help.
They say that the winning formula for basically anything is talent plus opportunity.
In Magic, talent boils down to rate, and Thrashing Brontodon has it in spades. A 3/4 for only three mana is already solid, and adding on an extremely relevant ability that is already in high demand and we have a surefire winner. The opportunity is wide open; it even has a sometimes relevant creature type!
If you're playing a deck with green creatures in it, you're going to need to give me a very good reason not to be starting Thrashing Brontodon in your deck.
Heart of Kiran has been very popular, with two of the biggest reasons why being how well it plays with Karn, Scion of Urza and how well it plays against Seal Away. Seal Away is a standout removal spell from Dominaria, which is often played with the other standout from Dominaria:
Planeswalkers and vehicles are everywhere in Standard, and while answers like Vraska's Contempt and Cast Out do the job of answering them, they can't stop the first activation from happening. As such, they always do so at card disadvantage and an even mana exchange. Still, answering planeswalkers in Standard is an absolute necessity, as an unchecked Karn, Scion of Urza; Chandra, Torch of Defiance; or Teferi will take over the game very quickly.
Sorcerous Spyglass gives you an opportunity to preemptively deal with planeswalker, even in colors that normally don't get that opportunity. In a pinch, it can also deal with vehicles, as well as troublesome permanents like Arguel's Blood Fast or Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Sorcerous Spyglass is especially potent both in and against U/W Control, as it gives the U/W Control deck more answers to difficult to remove permanents while also being perhaps one of the best cards against Teferi.
Sorcerous Spyglass is a great tool to have available.
Speaking of cards that are good against Teferi, Nissa, Vital Force is a card that needs to be reexamined.
Nissa is the kind of planeswalker that is extremely good against other planeswalkers, but not awesome against creatures. However, with Standard becoming more and more planeswalker-centric, Nissa becomes much more appealing. Nissa is essentially a 5/5 haste creature for five mana and holds strong with a solid six loyalty after the fact. Nissa also plays very well with Heart of Kiran, one of the other premier cards in the format.
We may not be all the way to Nissa being a maindeck card, but there's no doubt she is one of the best cards in the format against U/W Control. One of the most powerful plays that a U/W Control player can make is playing Teferi either on an empty battlefield and using the +1, or playing Teferi onto a battlefield of one threat and sending it away with the -3. Either way puts Teferi onto an empty battlefield and the U/W Control deck firmly in the driver's seat.
Nissa flips that script.
Not only does Nissa kill Teferi, but she also leaves behind an extremely powerful and difficult to interact with permanent. She also threatens to ultimate almost immediately, further creating an impossible to interact with axis of attack.
Evolution is always coming, and this deck seems to field many of the advantages of Mono-Green Aggro while also shoring up many of its shortcomings.
Treasure Map is a great card, and a card that is underplayed in general as a tool for non-blue decks to gain card advantage. It's also a card that plays well with the various artifact synergies from Kaladesh. However, there's one piece of cardboard that really loves Treasure Map.
Both cards together form a collection of card advantage and battlefield presence that is very impressive. A turn two or three Treasure Map flips on turn five, which is the perfect time to deploy Karn, Scion of Urza and make a 4/4 Construct token. If you're spending the time in between interacting with your opponent's creatures via removal spells and other interaction, that's a very impressive thing to be doing.
(For those who missed Standard Super League earlier this week, Team SCG was defeated by Brew Crew. Saffron Olive defeated me in the last round with a very meme-themed Mono-Black Control deck featuring two copies of everyone's favorite Froggie Boi.)
There's some good stuff happening in Saffron's deck, but please don't put Yargle in your Constructed decks.
Okay let's talk seriously about the good black five-mana spell Saffron did use: Liliana, Death's Majesty is great!
Previously outclassed in the five-drop slot by The Scarab God, Liliana is back with a vengeance for a few reasons. One of the biggest is the reemergence of Ravenous Chupacabra as one of the format's better removal spells. With big threats like Lyra Dawnbringer and Ghalta, Primal Hunger being so prevalent, as well as the extra body being important for building a battlefield presence and tagging planeswalkers, the dirty dog has been seeing a ton of play. It should be fairly obvious, but Ravenous Chupacabra plays wonderfully with Liliana.
Liliana also plays fantastically with Gonti, Lord of Luxury, one of the best cards in any sort of grindy matchup and another great card that has a good effect while increasing your battlefield presence. Playing Liliana and getting back either card, especially when they've done their job and traded off with something else, is a ton of value that leaves you up multiple cards and a planeswalker. Even just plusing Liliana to make tokens and fill your graveyard while having a very hard to kill planeswalker is fantastic.
Liliana + Ravenous Chupacabra / Gonti is another great engine, and one that molds surprisingly well with the previous Karn + Treasure Map engine. Mono-Black (or something similar) may have legs, and if it does it's on the back of both of these engines.
Our last card today is perhaps the coolest, and very similar to Liliana while requiring much less work in the deckbuilding stage- The Eldest Reborn is just pure value.
Goblin Chainwhirler and Walking Ballista have really pushed token and "go wide" strategies out of the format, meaning that Cruel Edict is actually a pretty good effect to have access to. The Eldest Reborn almost always ends up being a three-for-one, but best of all is its ability to steal planeswalkers from your opponents. Anytime you can put a planeswalker onto the battlefield and have all of your mana untapped to defend it, you're going to be in fantastic shape, which is something The Eldest Reborn does fairly well.
One of the issues however, is that the most popular spells for removing planeswalkers are Vraska's Contempt and Cast Out, both of which keep said planeswalker out of the graveyard. This incentivizes you to play cards like Never and Duress, both of which are quite good at the moment anyway.
The Eldest Reborn is a card with serious breakout potential, and there have been a few decklists on Magic Online that have 5-0ed leagues playing a full four copies of the card. It should be considered for any black deck going forward.
The Circle of Standard
Watching this Standard format evolve every week has been a real treat, and I'm very excited to see how the Pro Tour turns out next week.
Will there be some crazy new and wildly "out there" deck that takes the tournament by storm? Probably not, but it's always great to see a thriving and dynamic format change before our very eyes. It's also great to see so many new Dominaria cards all over the place!
And you know what? There are some wild cards in Dominaria that haven't been explored yet, so I don't think it's completely crazy that there's some new deck that's been missed. But for now, make sure that you're up on all the new technology at hand. Standard is not a format where you want to be caught with last week's tech!