This column comes to you from England and Italy—I was overseas attending a Vintage tournament in Piacenza over the past week! A special note to Mark Rosewater, who is one of the world's foremost pizza aficionados: if you are ever in Piacenza (which is a short train ride from Milan in Northern), be sure to stop by at "Le Caravelle," a Bar Pizzeria Ristorante. It was recommended by our Italian friends Federica and Federico. I grew up in New York City, so it is not lightly that I say that "Le Caravelle" had the best pizza I've ever had in my life! I went there for dinner four nights straight, and ordered the buffalo y crudo (prosciutto and mozzerella) pizza all four nights. Others enjoyed the pizza flambe (pizza, set on fire, with tobasco sauce) along with a great cup of sorbertini to finish off each meal. I can't recommend this pizzeria enough if you have occasion to be in northern Italy!
Speaking of recommendations, this week's column is focused on cards that I've almost used in decks in this column, or have touched on very briefly. I only write one column a week, and usually a deck lasts anywhere from one-half to two full columns, so there isn't enough room to play around with every card I'd like to play around with. In addition, sometimes I just run out of time to test a card before it rotates out of Standard—I get as excited about playing with the new cards as anyone else, so when Morningtide came out, there were some Lorwyn and Time Spiral block cards that fell off my radar.
I pulled up a list of all the cards in Standard, and went through set-by-set to make a list of the cards I'd like to play with, but haven't. As mentioned above, a couple of these cards have been mentioned or been briefly used in a deck, but forgettably so in those cases. This week, I'm going to look at the cards in Standard that I see good uses for (and might use in the future), and next week's column will look at Extended. Maybe you'll see some cards here that make you want to build a deck, or maybe I'll discuss a card that you absolutely want me to build around. In either case, please, by all means, feel free to talk about the cards on this list in the forums of this article!
Cream of the Crop / Abundance: Both of these are similar in that they increase the quality of your card selection if you are playing green. Cream of the Crop operates based off of creatures, whereas Abundance feeds from drawing cards. Of the two, Abundance is the more abusable—you are immediately displacing the cards you do not want, and getting the nonland (or land) card immediately. Cream of the Crop has a one-turn (or half-turn, if you are playing flash creatures) delay, but hits the board very early in the game. Abundance works with multiple draws a turn (such as with Sift), whereas Cream of the Crop sets up your next card, so multiple creatures do not affect multiple draws (though you can dig deeper into your deck if you do not want the top card of your library after the first creature).
Abundance traditionally has been abused with Sylvan Library (since you can replace draws completely, and keep all three cards without paying 8 life—just a note for you online classic players!) as a control or combo engine, but Cream of the Crop fits great into a deck that focuses more on an offensively oriented creature attack. It drops early enough that you don't have to give up much of your curve (for instance, first turn creature, second turn Cream of the Crop, third turn three or four power guy, depending on the drop), so you will likely get use out of it early. If you are dropping creature after creature, chances are that Cream of the Crop will keep this chain going—and since it is a triggered ability, it works great with Primal Forcemage (stack the Cream of the Crop trigger first, then the Forcemage's ability, and then dig three cards deeper than you might have otherwise).
It is easy to see the value in playing cards that give you pure card advantage (such as Harmonize), but sometimes, in the numbers, you lose sight of the fact that if you draw better cards than your opponent the entire game, you will have an advantage. Playing Cream of the Crop or Abundance will set you down a card in the game, since neither affects the board or the game in and of themselves. However, their effect on card quality is tremendous, and both can drop your late-game chance of drawing useless lands to nil.
Idyllic Tutor / Enduring Renewal: Wayyyyyy back in the day, there was a deck called Pebbles (not to be confused with Ben Peebles-Mundy), based around the combination of Enduring Renewal, Goblin Bombardment, and zero-cost artifact creatures (Shield Sphere, Phyrexian Walker, and/or Ornithopter, at the time). Several variants along the theme were made, but the glue that held this deck together was Enlightened Tutor (and, in some versions, Vampiric Tutor). Since every piece of the combo engine was either an artifact or an enchantment, Enlightened Tutor could fetch up the missing third of your combo, no matter what it was.
When Enduring Renewal was printed in Time Spiral, the best people could do was build a deck based around Wild Cantor, but without the tutoring power to get the deck going, it was not a viable deck. You had to have an enchantment (Enduring Renewal), a creature (Wild Cantor) and an engine (a storm spell, probably Grapeshot), and there weren't enough tutors on-color to make the deck work. Idyllic Tutor lets you, at the least, have a way to fetch Enduring Renewal. While I’m not sure there is a good Standard-legal engine to work with now that Wild Cantor is out of the format, this makes the deck more reliable for Extended, where you could combine Wild Cantor and Grapeshot to deal infinite to the head. Summoner's Pact goes a long way here as well, since it can get Wild Cantor, even if you have Enduring Renewal up (since it brings the creature straight to your hand).
Giants in general (Ancient Amphitheater / Brion Stoutarm / Desolation Giant / Thundercloud Shaman): There's a great Giant deck out there, either as a control deck or as an offensive deck (Blind Spot Giant is huge!). Sad thing is, nobody seems to like Giants. Their harbinger is very expensive, their curve is pretty high, and white-red isn't a very popular color combination since Lightning Helix rotated out. As a budget deck, I can't help but want to build Giants, since all of the best cards (Amphitheater, Brion, Desolation Giant) are under a ticket at this point, so I could run a lot of the great rares at a very cheap price. This is not the case with virtually any other tribe, as their top-end cards are expensive and their lands as well.
Lord Deck (Merrow Reejerey, Elvish Champion, Imperious Perfect, Lord of Atlantis, changelings): One day you are going to see "Oh My Lord!", a deck built around a ton of creatures that give other creatures +1/+1, and as many changelings as I can fit in without skimping on lands. My idea centers around the four lords mentioned above, so the outline for this deck would be those sixteen cards, and probably twenty changelings (Shapesharer, Woodland Changeling, Mothdust Changeling, Game-Trail Changeling, Amoeboid Changeling and the such). I'm not sure how many legs this deck would have, but it would be an interesting spring-off point to see where this type of deck could evolve to! (Distant Melody anyone?)
Wild Ricochet / Imp's Mischief: I mention both of these cards together because I think I have put them on (at least a mental) list of cards I would want to use in every black and red deck I've built over the last year. Each time, I take them off because their effect is too narrow. If I had to pull a random (yet informed) statistic out of my butt, I would say that 50% of the time, these cards would be dead in hand (no effects to redirect), 40% of the time they would be marginally useful (moving a Shock or Incinerate around), and 10% of the time completely game-winningly back-breaking (imagine using Wild Ricochet on a just-unsuspending Ancestral Vision to draw six cards?) This would make either one good in a tool-box style deck, but too unreliable (yet very cool when they did work in that 10%) to play as a four-of in a deck that could have slots dedicated to more reliable effects.
Barren Glory / Warp World: In part 2 of the Round Robin, I mentioned potentially adding Warp World to the deck (since I already had Overgrowth) as a way to have an end-game finisher against control decks. This came from an idea I had of a Barren Glory / Warp World / Claws of Gix Standard deck, which would win by floating mana, emptying the hand, and then sacrificing all permanents to Claws of Gix to leave Barren Glory as the only permanent on your side of the board. This is another deck I might visit at some point—I've seen some great Warp World decks with lots of comes-into-play effect permanents, but I didn't necessarily want to go that direct route.
I hope that a rundown of these cards has given you some ideas for deck building! Tune in next week as I examine further back, starting at Time Spiral! And remember—once Magic Online III is up, back to the Round Robin we go!