Let me preface by telling you that last week I did not get a chance to read reactions or articles to any spoilers so everything you are about to read is a completely uninfluenced opinion. That's not to say there's an early excuse if wrong decision-making goes down; it's to let you all know that there are strong feelings about to be had.
Basically I am in love with this card.
Like a lot…a lot.
Talk about a Cat that is ready to pounce! Everything from the art flavor styling and power level is an awesome storm of awesome!
Now that the Smi77y-hype is out of the way let us get to some of the meat of what may happen in our full set Standard environment. Ajani isn't a card that will singlehandedly change the format like Jace the Mind Sculptor; Ajani is a card that fits in a flurry of white decks or two-color decks. From aggro to midrange to aggro-control it's very likely this card will see plenty of play. In fact this card will most likely be one of the most used planeswalkers in quite some time for a few reasons the obvious being that it's a three-casting cost planeswalker with relevant abilities and an extremely overcosted loyalty.
On turn 3 and perhaps even turn 2 Ajani will be chillin' on the board at five loyalty yes FIVE loyalty. Five loyalty is a number that Delver cannot touch not even with exalted coming back into the format.
You may be thinking: five loyalty is great and all but now what?
For those that missed it Ajani can use his +1 ability despite not having any creature to target because it says "up to one target creature" meaning you don't have to choose a target. This makes using his +1 on an empty board a legal play.
Before we get too much further let's look at my first attempt at a list because I know that's what we are all here for!
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Blade Splicer
- 2 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Sublime Archangel
- 2 Wolfir Silverheart
A list like this is mostly non-interactive but you are most certainly the aggressor. An issue many may have is that an empty board with Ajani Caller of the Pride is mostly underwhelming. Even with an empty board he is ticking up towards his ultimate or buying you turns against an opposing team attacking you. Ajani isn't Tibalt the Fiend-Blooded; you need to deal with him and it won't be that easy because his loyalty starts so high.
Ten turn 1 mana accelerators may seem excessive but the deck wants to abuse the three-casting cost slot. This is a common theme as the lack of good two-drops in green-based decks is the norm as of late (Elvish Visionary coming back could be a nice boost). But there are plenty of fantastic three-drops now. Ajani is quite the threat as is a Sword and in very similar ways.
An Ajani on turn 2 results in a mana accelerator becoming a grizzly bear while Ajani is at a full five loyalty basically protecting himself. The next turn you have will often have a few options including attacking for two and playing another three-drop playing a Rancor (or two) and swinging for eight (or twelve) with trample and flying by the way or even casting a Strangleroot Geist and choosing your best option with Ajani. It should be noted that Strangleroot and Ajani are a nombo.
There was a subtle mention of Rancor above but having that card back is absolutely incredible for green mages.
It's our Ponder in terms of power level. Blue mages may argue this but Rancor is ridiculous. Angelic Destiny saw play but Rancor is far better than Angelic Destiny and it's an uncommon. All of your creatures turn into threats and in a deck like this you sometimes only need a single creature to create enough threat to finish off your opponent who just played Day of Judgment or the like. Rancor goes against the common opinion that "enchantments are bad" because it can keep coming at you and by only costing one it's much harder for your opponent to plan for it. It's also harder to get "blown out" by cards because you will have other plays in addition to Rancor if something bad does happen.
Without diving too far into the list mentioned above because it's untested so far the reason I have Sublime Archangel in there is because with cards like Rancor Swords and Ajani exalted becomes even stronger when you have a near empty board. But when you are in a matchup of creature on creature the card becomes very powerful particularly teaming it up with a ton of mana accelerators that won't die as easily and cards like Blade Splicer which will have more value despite one of the creatures being a 1/1.
P.S.: Champion of Lambholt can and will be insane in decks like this.
Moving on I have to warn you that you'll be seeing a lot of lists like this: variations of my old Hexblade list. In fact we'd have a real contender against the king of the hill Delver decks if "shocklands" get reprinted as many have rumored they might. (It's possible it is ruled out by now.)
- 4 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 4 Invisible Stalker
- 3 Mwonvuli Beast Tracker
- 2 Restoration Angel
- 4 Strangleroot Geist
- 4 Geist of Saint Traft
- 1 Sigarda, Host of Herons
It seems ridiculous to say but I was actually considering holding this list because of my excitement level and the fact I plan on being at the SCG Open Series in Seattle on June 30th. Hexblade was a list that was conceived a while ago and although it's been mentioned quite a bit without any solid results it continues to get improvements with each set. This set is by far the biggest boost of them all particularly because of Rancor but Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is a perfect card to be quite honest.
[Editor's note: Mwonvuli Beast Tracker is a rumored Human Scout creature that costs 1GG. The text on it is "When Mwonvuli Beast Tracker enters the battlefield search your library for a creature card with deathtouch hexproof reach or trample and reveal it. Shuffle your library then put that card on top of it."]
Game 1 we clearly lack any sort of involvement with our opponent and because of this you want to keep constant threats coming. Mwonvuli Beast Tracker does exactly this and allows us to play a few Tutor targets which is always a bonus for any list if possible. Continuing on the trend of dropping aggressive three-drops on turn 2 this deck puts the pressure on fast and furious while proving to be difficult to answer once a hexproof creature hits the board. Cavern of Souls also tremendously helps a weak spot—counterspells.
One side note: If you play around with this deck give Elvish Visionary a try over Beast Tracker. Getting a creature on the board and replacing him when you have so many pump spells is very strong.
Rancor doubles up as powerful evasion that far exceeds the old cards that were used in Hexblade lists including Angelic Destiny and Spectral Flight. It's even possible we could fit our new favorite feline Ajani in here by cutting Cavern of Souls for Sunpetal Groves. Even then the mana would be a little greedy as it was when I tried Mirran Crusader in Hexblade's original lists.
Many more decks like this will be brewed (with good chance to succeed) now that Rancor is out. It enables a lot of archetypes and Mono-Green Aggro is something to really watch out for. Dungrove Elder has always wanted an evasion spell that is as consistent and aggressive as Rancor but Mono-Green is a deck I'll leave for Todd Anderson as I don't have any prior experience with it. Let's not stop there though. Decks such as Infect Naya Naya Pod and even Wolf Run Ramp could run Rancor. It could mean an Inkmoth Nexus comeback as well. Rancor returns to your hand far easier than Angelic Destiny and all you need is a measly three mana to equip and activate an Inkmoth Nexus.
M13 hasn't been fully spoiled yet but it's possible there will be even more cards for these lists that I'll get excited about. There are many tools to play around with to tune these decks for upcoming events and many more to come. The official release in right around the corner and the more the set keeps the spoiling the greater my excitement for Standard gets. It's certainly needed a little boost as of late!