Standard is a different world than it was two weeks ago.
The implications of this are nowhere near understood. There are well over 150 new cards in Standard that have been legal for just a week and a half, compared to over 1500 cards that have been legal for much longer. The thing is, Magic formats are not made up of cards. They are made up of interactions. Any given card means nothing without relationships to other cards. Even Black Lotus and Ancestral Recall can be unplayable in the right formats, and Great Wall and One with Nothing can be playable (wait, thatalreadyhappened...?).
While it is true that we want to understand what 150 new cards do, it is not the card text that is a mystery. What cards do is interact with one another. Once a single new card is added to the mix, it makes some cards better, and some worse. It makes some strategies better, and some worse. Some cards get played less often to make room for it. Some cards get played more because they are good against the new cards or strategies.
This is only the beginning, however.
Whatever those cards and strategies are that have gained in popularity or power, they have an impact. They then cause other cards and strategies to gain and diminish in popularity and success. Other cards that get played less might have been holding back some other strategy that can now reemerge. Perhaps that strategy's reemergence causes some other deck to no longer have a home... And the butterfly's wings continue to flutter.
Even if Standard had just gained Thragtusk, the ripples from this new card would take time to understand (and weeks to play out as players adjusted to the adjustments to adjustments). Once we are talking about 150 new cards interacting with 1500 existing cards, we are talking about a quarter of a million two-card relationships, each of which can have an impact on each other cards and relationships.
This past week was a busy week for Magic, with a SCG Standard Open, a Modern Grand Prix, and a Legacy Grand Prix. The Standard Open had a number of exciting decks appear, but ended with a fairly "grandfathered-in" Top 8:
SCG Standard Open: Las Vegas Top 8:
3 U/W or Mono-U Aggro
3 B/R or BUG Pod Zombies
2 G/R Aggro or Naya Aggro
While this isn't the most groundbreaking Top 8, it does provide a useful target to aim for as we set to work exploring ways to use the new M13 cards. Seeing this Top 8, as well as the results from last week's Open (basically the same thing, but with G/W/x Pod decks instead of Zombies and more green aggro, less Delver), has me eyeing Thragtusk.
Look, two things:
1) Not using a card just because other people use it is a dangerous trap to fall into. There can be value to dodging hate, etc., but to just not play it because it's popular... Ok, ok, you are the hippest.
2) It doesn't exactly set the stage right to start this article with the line: "Thragtusk. Next question."
Thragtusk is awesome in the abstract because of how much you are getting for your mana and for your card. Think of it as Tidings (a draw four) where one of the cards is a 5/3 creature (maybe worth 3 mana, these days), one of the cards is a zero mana gain five life, one of the cards is a zero mana 3/3 that comes later, and one of the cards is a Black Lotus to cast that 5/3 we just got.
Contextually, Thragtusk is a great fit for the new Standard. He has a huge presence on the board immediately, providing a larger body than most, a massive life swing, and the insurance of having another creature coming if anything happens to this one. That is an extremely potent combination against any sort of aggressive strategy, but that he is nearly a guaranteed two-for-one makes him a legitimate threat against reactive decks as well.
Besides, creatures are just awesome these days. They aren't just roads to victory; they are blockers and answers to planeswalkers. They give you lots of great options. They are so good that many people play removal spells. Creatures that are good against removal spells take on new meaning in the right control decks.
Why can't we put Thragtusk in a control deck?
One of the things I love about Grave Titan is the ability to drop it against aggro and "catch up." Thragtusk is somewhat similar in this regard and could be an ideal weapon in some new breed of control deck. For instance:
- 2 Augur of Bolas
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 3 Snapcaster Mage
- 3 Thragtusk
Here, we are obviously talking about a bit more midrangey strategy, but there's nothing wrong with that. Counterspells are not super good at the moment (and not just because of Cavern of Souls), so why over-rely on them?
The combination of Huntmasters and Thragtusks supported by some removal and card draw should give us a nice baseline strategy against aggression. Large toughness creatures could be potentially problematic, so perhaps we are supposed to explore answers like Volition Reins?
Is it crazy to not run four Snapcaster Mages? I sure do like Augur of Bolas, and I generally would rather draw one of each than two Snapcasters in this deck. Of course, we could find room for more of either elsewhere, but I'd hate to cut any sorceries or instants. Is it possible we are supposed to play a couple of Though Scours (and less land)?
Kessig Wolf Run is actually somewhat similar to using Swords in that it lets each creature be a potentially game-winning threat going long. That said, we have enough guys that having the option to board in Swords is very hot.
Bonfire gets the nod over Whipflare (at least maindeck) as it combos so well with all of our creatures (being a Plague Wind instead of a Day of Judgment). Of course, I do still want to try to keep room for a Magmaquake; as we need help against planeswalkers, it is a very potent instant speed threat (particularly with a Huntmaster you are now flipping), and having a single copy goes a long way when you use card draw and filtering.
Crushing Vines has been gaining popularity as a sideboard card, but is it really so crazy to maindeck one? I have maindecked Ancient Grudge many times, and Crushing Vines certainly has a lot more applications. We are already going to be vulnerable to Restoration Angel, so having more answers to it is much appreciated. Besides, hitting a timely Sword can be game winning.
Against the host of Pod decks in the format, it is both an answer to their namesake and the best card in their deck (Restoration Angel). Even if you face a G/R aggro deck (with no Restoration Angels), they often have Swords or Phyrexian Metamorphs. Besides, they always have Birds of Paradise, which isn't a super exciting target but means Crushing Vines is far from dead.
You know, I am not even sure we can't Flight Spellbomb.
Seriously, why not?
It cycles, so it's not like its dead against anyone, but the ability to threaten to make your Thragtusk fly when they have a Restoration Angel is excellent (to say nothing of giving your Thragtusk flying and give your opponent the business!)
- 1 Augur of Bolas
- 1 Consecrated Sphinx
- 4 Huntmaster of the Fells
- 2 Phantasmal Image
- 2 Snapcaster Mage
- 3 Thragtusk
Look, you think I don't realize how rarely "Jump + Earthbind" is good? Flight Spellbomb might just be a pipe dream, but it is outside the box and there is a logic to it. Really, I am just saying that Crushing Vines is underrated. That card is this generation's Disenchant (circa 1996, since Disenchant isn't a very effective Disenchant these days).
The one Consecrated Sphinx was selected as a victory condition that hits from the exact opposite direction as the rest of the creatures, but is the only Crushing Vines target maindeck. It is very possible that in the near future we end up in a world where it is right to make choices like playing a Titan instead of a Consecrated Sphinx to blank the other guy's maindeck Crushing Vines.
Another possible direction to go with Thragtusk control is black/blue/green:
This direction is a bit more speculative since we have a lot tougher time playing a tap out game (due to no Huntmasters). It is possible we are just supposed to play Bloodline Keepers maindeck (and possible 3-4) to serve a similar function. The idea of being more proactive is very appealing. For instance:
Bloodline Keeper seems pretty rad at the moment (a point I am sure Shouta would agree with me on), but there are actually a number of important ideas to mention on this list.
First of all, yeah, those are Unsummons. Why not? As anyone that has played with or against Vapor Snag over the past year can tell you, bouncing a creature for one mana is a heckuva a deal at the right times. We want Vapor Snag over Unsummon when the one point of life loss is more likely to be game winning than game losing (when we have to bounce our own guys). It is not that I think we'd Unsummon our own guys over 50% of the time. It is just that with this list, even if we hit their guys 60% of the time, I am not sure the life loss is worth the risk.
It might just be crazy, but maybe, maybe it is even worth it to do an Unsummon / Vapor Snag split. Seriously. If you play two of the same one, you will have less options some percentage of the time when you drew both and want to Snapcaster Mage one back. In situations where we don't know which one is better, it generally worth asking ourselves if splitting the difference is a reasonable hedge. We don't know which is better and have only a 50/50 shot of guessing, but the marginal utility of having one of each is slightly better than the average utility of guessing on one.
Unsummon isn't just a "tempo" play; it has tons of applications both in this deck and the format at large. To begin with, as janky as it sounds, Unsummon plus Mana Leak or Despise is still a combo. Unsummon your Snapcaster Mage or Augur of Bolas lets you convert it into library manipulation or recursion.
Unsummon is an excellent answer to Rancor (though I would note that Kalim Oldziey makes an excellent point about Spellskite as an answer to Rancor, as well as Zealous Conscripts in artifact decks...).
Most importantly, you can target your Thragtusk (ok, Unsummoning Snapcaster Mage is pretty important). This lets you turn Unsummon into a one-mana 3/3 that lets you pay five mana to gain five life. That is a very exciting interaction, no question!
So what does the future hold?
Well, for starters, a lot of Thragtusks. He might not be Restoration Angel (the best creature in Standard), but he is so powerful he will warp the format around him a bit. It is possible that he turns out to be so good, he makes people play less of him (because he has already scared so much of his prey away, a common problem for Loxodon Hierarch types).
Speaking of Restoration Angel, I would be remiss if I did not include the final U/G/x color combination, blue/green/white, which gains Restoration Angel (which is one of the absolute best ways to abuse Thragtusk in the format).
Obviously, with this list we are starting to veer into fairly familiar territory, but that doesn't mean it is wrong. The creature removal in Bant is pretty terrible, leaving us with stuff like Gut Shot and Dismember to carry us through. (At least we have Crushing Vines, which is way, way better than maindecking Divine Offering!)
I am a bit concerned about the vulnerability to Talrand. This deck is probably way too tempo based to be excited about Flight Spellbomb. We could try Beast Within (Mondo-Combo with Vapor Snag!), but three-mana answers aren't exactly inspiring. It seems like it should do something, but Beast Within on your own Thragtusk is really not so hot.
So what is the best way to use Thragtusk? Maybe it is about making lots of 3/3s and gaining lots of life. Or maybe it is about playing a deck that can backdoor some combos, but mainly is just set up to beat the decks that five life and two medium-sized bodies don't already beat.
Or maybe we just Worldfire and be done with it.
What are you playing in Standard right now? Is there a deck concept or interaction that has your interest, but you aren't yet sure what to do with it yet? What is the most under-utilized card from M13 at the moment?
See you next week!
Top 13 New M13 Cards:
13. Vampire Nighthawk
12. Sublime Archangel
11. Ajani, Caller of the Pride
10. Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker
9. Trading Post
7. Cathedral of War
6. Talrand, Sky Summoner
4. Augur of Bolas
2. Thundermaw Hellkite