June's Banned and Restricted Announcement has come and gone and it seems we'll need to look elsewhere for changes to the Standard metagame and relief from Delver's reign of terror. Thankfully M13's release is not far off and even from an incomplete spoiler the new core set seems to have plenty to shake things up. Between powerful new cards old favorites returning and possible ways to revitalize existing cards M13 will give us a lot to work with.
I'll start today with what I believe to be the best new card spoiled so far.
I can summarize Thragtusk with three words: the perfect card. It truly has everything I look for when evaluating potential new weapons.
Proactive: Good under any circumstances regardless of what your opponent is doing.
Powerful: Has a large impact on the game.
Both Offensive and Defensive: It can be played in a wide range of decks and once it's in your deck it helps you to take on either an aggressive or defensive posture.
Castable: Five mana isn't too much. It also happens to be in the color that can make the best use of five-drops. Or it's easily splashable!
Guaranteed Value: I don't want my five-drops to be answered one-for-one at no loss for my opponent. You'll always get something out of Thragtusk and its immediate impact on the game means you won't even lose too much tempo!
Synergy with Existing Cards: See "guaranteed value" with Cavern of Souls to ensure that it resolves. It's a natural fit in decks with Birthing Pod Restoration Angel or Green Sun's Zenith. But let's not restrict Thragtusk's synergy with existing cards to just one sentence; it's the whole reason I'm writing today!
Thragtusk will be good against Delver good against control and nearly insurmountable against beatdown. The only matchups where it won't shine will be the combo-esque non-interactive matchups which in Standard are basically restricted to Frites and Wolf Run Ramp. But maybe we should just play Wolf Run with Thragtusk!
Since today is about new ideas though we can put Wolf Run on the shelf for the time being. Beyond Birthing Pod and Green Sun's Zenith I very much like the way Thragtusk goes hand in hand with another spoiled card.
The way that Disciple of Bolas and the underappreciated Garruk Primal Hunter work with high power creatures has inspired me to build a deck based on the theme of...high power creatures.
- 1 Phyrexian Metamorph
- 1 Solemn Simulacrum
- 1 Avacyn's Pilgrim
- 4 Birds of Paradise
- 2 Borderland Ranger
- 2 Disciple of Bolas
- 1 Grave Titan
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 1 Strangleroot Geist
- 3 Thragtusk
- 1 Viridian Emissary
- 1 Wolfir Silverheart
This deck falls somewhere in between the aggressive Birthing Pod decks we're used to and the Wolf Run Ramp Pod deck I suggested last week. Such midrange strategies have been hunted to the brink of extinction by U/W Delver over the past few months. They aren't fast enough to put the Delver player on the defensive but they also don't have enough removal to reliably answer Delver of Secrets and Geist of Saint Traft. This puts them in the unfortunate situation of needing to block and as we all know by now U/W Delver has a lot of ways to make trying-to-block a losing strategy.
Thragtusk though has the potential to change all of that. Both the lifegain and its resistance to Vapor Snag increase your chances of being able to survive against Delver. Unlike some other powerful creatures like Wolfir Silverheart and the Titans Thragtusk is not too devastating to have Cloned (or stolen by Zealous Conscripts) because you can simply trade off the creatures while buying yourself a ton of time.
This type of midrange strategy can make excellent use of the card draw from Disciple of Bolas and Garruk Primal Hunter. With a good mix of threats and answers offense and defense you're guaranteed to find something helpful when you draw five extra cards. Single-minded decks like Wolf Run Ramp or Mono-Green Aggro certainly won't pass up an opportunity to draw five cards but games will often be determined one way or another before it gets to that point. Wolf Run wins when it can stick a Titan on a stable board and Mono-Green Aggro can often lose in the very late game no matter how many extra cards it draws because it doesn't have the tools to compete with Day of Judgments Titans and opposing planeswalkers.
Disciple of Bolas didn't jump out at me when I first read the spoiler but after considering it I'm convinced it will be a great tool for a deck like this. It works very well with undying and other value creatures like Thragtusk and Titans and though somewhat less impressive is still good with Borderland Ranger and Solemn Simulacrum. It's quite unfair with Wolfir Silverheart as a way to temporarily inflate a creature's power. (For other decks equipment or exalted triggers could have a similar effect.) Finally in a Birthing Pod deck the four-mana body itself is a relevant threat as it has the potential to quickly transform into something devastating.
Regarding the actual decklist my hope is that accelerated Garruks and Disciples will make for impressive nut draws while Green Sun's Zeniths and a smooth mana curve will provide some level of consistency. The mana base is very good as there are only eight cards that can't be cast with green mana and plenty of fixing to support them. My only regret is the inability to play Dungrove Elder which happens to fit the "toughie" theme remarkably well.
Poor poor Rancor has the misfortune of finally being reprinted after all these years in a Standard environment where most Top 8s have 20+ Vapor Snags (or double that if you count Snapcaster Mage). However its new home will be alongside the hexproof Dungrove Elder whose humble desire in life has always been to gain +2/+0 and trample. With four Green Sun's Zenith's to find him and Thragtusks and Strangleroot Geists also having some built-in resistance to Vapor Snag there should be no problem finding a safe target for Rancor in this deck.
While I don't think Rancor will be a widely played card (at least not at first) I do think it will push Mono-Green Aggro over the top. Giving trample to giant creatures is an age-old strategy and it corrects one of the weak points of the current Dungrove deck which is Timely Reinforcement tokens chump blocking. Even with only a Strangleroot Geist you can suit up a Rancor and suicide him into a blocker. The following turn you'll have the option to...suit up the same Rancor on the same Geist and suicide him into another blocker all the while dealing significant trample damage!
At first I thought of Rancor as being a replacement for Sword of War and Peace but on the contrary it works great alongside Sword of War and Peace. The trample that Rancor provides increases the equipped creature's chances of connecting and in turn decreases your opponent's chances of surviving.
As a framework for the above list I used Christian Valenti's Mono-Green Aggro deck from the StarCityGames.com Invitational in Indianapolis. However I feel that Thragtusk so dramatically outclasses the other five-drops that you no longer need much of a Green Sun's Zenith toolbox. What's more Rancor already takes away your opponent's ability to chump block so cards like Bellowing Tanglewurm and Revenge of the Hunted are no longer necessary.
M13 looks to offer new tools to all five colors but in Standard today I'm most excited to be playing green. Mana dorks allow you to get out ahead which is invaluable in such a tempo-based format. Birthing Pod and Green Sun's Zenith provide the consistency and flexibility of being able to play with all of the cards in your deck not just the ones in your hand. Finally creatures with powerful enters the battlefield (and leaves the battlefield) effects like Huntmaster of the Fells Acidic Slime and the new Thragtusk make it very difficult to lose any kind of fair fight.
Though it's still in the distant future what excites me most about green in Standard is the scheduled departure of Phantasmal Image. Right now the undercosted Clone allows blue players to highjack all of the advantages that green offers—undying enters the battlefield abilities etc.—as well as strip the power away from the hexproof legends Thrun the Last Troll and Sigarda Host of Herons.
I see green becoming a powerhouse at some point in the near future. Since there's so much to explore from Rancor beatdown to midrange Birthing Pod to Wolf Run Ramp I'm personally going to start as soon as possible!