The Island of Lost Toys

Posted in Feature on August 22, 2007

By Frank Karsten

Welcome back to Online Tech! Last week I reviewed the Standard metagame, and since then I have started to playtest some games in preparation for my National Championships. A good rounded-out gauntlet of decks to test against would be one Rakdos deck, one Gruul deck, one Blue-Red-White Blink deck, and one Solar Flare deck (you can check my Standard deck-o-pedia for decklists). This diverse combination of decks covers most of the popular Standard strategies, so if you can beat these decks, then you should be fine. I have no idea what the best deck could be yet, and I doubt there even is one.

ForgetI quickly realized that the Standard metagame for this year's Nationals season is vastly different from last year's. While thinking back of how the metagame was at my Nationals last year, I came across plenty of cards or decks that were quite popular back then and thought, "Hey, that card is still legal today! Why doesn't one play this anymore these days?" Sometimes I could come up with solid explanations for this (for example, other crucial cards rotated out), but often I couldn't really understand why certain cards or decks are underplayed. Perhaps the metagame had shifted against these cards a while ago, and since then people may have forgotten certain cards even existed.

There were still no online Constructed Premier Events last week because of the Tenth Edition release events, so I don't have an online metagame to report on. Instead, I wanted to talk today about these forgotten Standard cards and decks that have fallen out of grace for no reason. I looked over the Standard events of the last two years and wrote down old favorites that are still legal but that no one plays anymore. By focusing your attention on these, I will show that Standard metagame is even more diverse than you may have thought, and that there are still plenty of valid options out there in the open.

The "Why Does No One Play this Card Anymore?" Section

I noted down 30 interesting cards and listed them alphabetically. Most of these were fairly popular a while back, but rarely show up nowadays. I'll go over these underused cards and explain if and how they can be applied nowadays. I hope that by mentioning these cards I can spark some or inspiration, and offer some ideas for your decks that you may not think about right away.

  1. Bottled Cloister. This is a fine sideboard card in Rakdos or Gruul for the mirror match. If you draw twice as many cards as your opponent, you tend to win, and no one boards in artifact removal in these mirror matches.
  2. Burning-Tree Shaman. There is actually a fair reason why this is losing out to other good three-drops: there are simply not enough activated abilities to prey upon; no Sensei's Divining Tops or Umezawa's Jittes anymore. However, it is still not a bad card per se.
  3. Carven Caryatid. This is a great sideboard card against creature decks like Rakdos. I think it would fit well in Green-White-Blue Blink or OmniChord.
  4. Condemn. One-mana removal is never bad. This card is fine for control decks such as Angelfire or Solar Flare, and it needs to be played more.
  5. Deathmark. One-mana removal is still not bad, especially if it destroys Tarmogoyf. However, most decks simply don't run enough green or white creatures, so perhaps Terror may be a better pick in the current metagame. Nevertheless, you could board in Deathmark against Gruul, Green-White-Blue Blink, and Mono Green Aggro.
  6. Desert. Most red decks are full of one-toughness creatures: Mogg Fanatic, Mogg War Marshal, Martyr of Ashes, and Scorched Rusalka. And then I haven't even mentioned one of the most important cards in Standard: Dark Confidant. Control decks with only one or two colors should consider adding this land.
  7. Disenchant. A sideboard staple a while back, but I understand it doesn't show up often anymore. There are simply not enough artifacts or enchantments around to run Disenchants (or related cards like Ronom Unicorn). Some decks have 4 The Rack, others have 4 Moldervine Cloak, etcetera, but that is not enough to warrant boarding in Disenchant. Most of the time they will sit dead in your hand. Solar Flare or Angelfire probably have the most targets, with many Signets and some Faith's Fetters, but that is still not enough for Disenchant to make a comeback.
  8. Electrolyze
    Electrolyze. There are plenty of low-toughness creatures around. I already covered many of them when I discussed Desert. And if your opponent plays Momentary Blink on Riftwing Cloudskate, responding with Electrolyze is not bad either. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this card, and it may be a fine addition to aggressively minded Red-White-Blue Blink decks.
  9. Flashfreeze. This is certainly not a bad sideboard card to consider in a Gruul-heavy metagame. It stops Greater Gargadon, the lethal Char, Tarmagoyf, and many others.
  10. Ghost Council of Orzhova. This is an amazing creature; it's like a Loxodon Hierarch that survives Wrath of God. The mana cost is prohibitive, but it is worth making a black-white deck just for him.
  11. Honorable Passage. This is an underused sideboard card. White-based aggressive decks could put this in against red decks. If you can ever hit a Greater Gargadon with this, the game is over.
  12. Hunted Wumpus. This used to be a sideboard trump in Gruul-on-Gruul matchups, as a 6/6 creature is hard to kill. It takes two Incinerates to kill it, and the downside of putting a creature in play is often negligible against other Gruul decks without fatties.
  13. Hypnotic Specter. No deck plays this anymore, not even decks with The Rack. I don't understand why; this card used to be overpowered and caused many headaches for control decks. There is nothing wrong with Hypnotic Specter; it needs more respect.
  14. Knight of the Holy Nimbus. No one plays white-based aggro decks anymore, which makes sense as Savannah Lions has rotated out, but it is a pity that all the great white two-drops like this one do not have a home.
  15. Loxodon Warhammer. Not technically an old favorite, but I have the feeling this is one of the sleeper cards in the format that doesn't get enough respect. Once a creature with Warhammer connects against a red burn deck, the game will be over. It is not an Umezawa's Jitte, but Warhammer is good enough to see more play. Please consider this card more.
  16. Ohran Viper. What is wrong with this? Sure, there is Call of the Herd and Troll Ascetic, which may be better in blazing fast aggro decks with burn, but Ohran Viper could be superior in green mid-range decks. Don't forget it exists!
  17. Orzhov Pontiff. I already covered Electrolyze and Desert, which have similar effects, but an added bonus of Orzhov Pontiff is that it also gets rid of Giant Solifuge. As a creature with a come-in-play effect, this could find a spot as a sideboard card in Blue-White-Black Blink-Touch decks.
  18. Paladin en-Vec. Paladin plus Umezawa's Jitte was a strong combo one year ago. We don't have Jitte anymore, but the most popular aggro deck is still Black-Red, and most other aggro decks are close to mono-red. In that light, I find it strange that no one wants to play with Paladin en-Vec.
  19. Pyroclasm. It is a fine cheap sideboard card versus creature decks like Rakdos. I find it strange that in Extended, Pyroclasm is the prime removal of choice for Burning Wish, but almost no one runs it in Standard.
  20. Remove Soul. This is very playable and often forgotten. Most decks in Standard play around 15-20 creatures, so this is close to a pure hard counter for two mana. In the current creature-laden metagame I like it better than Rune Snag.
  21. Rumbling Slum. In the current fast Gruul decks, Giant Solifuge may be better. But in slower red-green decks, this is still a fine choice. A superior Juzam Djinn is never bad.
  22. Sacred Mesa. I liked to play one or two in control decks like Angelfire or Solar Flare. It has a unique, board-dominating effect, and gives you a late game plan when you have 10 lands in play.
  23. Scrying Sheets. Has everyone forgotten that Coldsnap is still legal in Standard (and will be for another year)? It has been a long time since I have seen Scrying Sheets somewhere, and that doesn't make a lot of sense to me. Along with snow lands and cards like Phyrexian Ironfoot or Boreal Druid, it is not hard to make a deck full of snow cards, so that Scrying Sheets can provide a steady flow of card advantage. Especially in mono-color decks, like Mono-Green Aggro, it almost doesn't hurt your mana base at all. Furthermore, running snow enables awesome cards like Skred.
  24. Seize the Soul. It destroys two Tarmogoyfs for the price of one. It is a bit narrow and probably sideboard-only, but still not a bad card to have, since it has an extremely powerful game-swinging effect.
  25. Spike Feeder. Aven Riftwatcher is the new hype, and this is its ancestor. In decks without Momentary Blink, I think it is actually superior to Riftwatcher, since it stays in play for longer.
  26. Stalking Yeti. It is not only solid in a dedicated snow deck, it is also a fine sideboard card for Rakdos decks. It's a re-usable Flametongue Kavu that should not be forgotten.
  27. Story Circle. You need a white-heavy deck to make this work, but this can truly break a bunch of decks, mostly the red aggro-burn decks.
  28. Sulfur Elemental. No one plays white creatures like Savannah Lions anymore, so I can understand it has fallen out of grace. The best it does now is to make it easier to kill Loxodon Hierarch or Lightning Angel, and that doesn't quite cut it. I just find it interesting how the metagame dictates whether Sulfur Elemental is a format-defining card that lays down the rules or whether it collects dust in binders.
  29. Sunforger. In the Blue-Red-White Blink decks with plenty of creatures, this can offer a steady late-game flow of action. These decks already run Momentary Blink and Lightning Helix, which is fine already, so adding 2 Sunforger wouldn't be bad. You could even consider adding Odds or Bathe in Light—both also underappreciated cards—for extra choice.
  30. Think Twice. About half a year ago every blue control deck ran four of these, in order to give themselves the choice between casting Remand and drawing a card on turn two. No one seems to run it anymore, so perhaps it just wasn't as good as initially thought, but in control decks with eight two-mana counters this is still not bad.

The "Why Does No One Play this Deck Anymore?" Section

I looked over the various decks that were played in the last two years, to see if I could find something that people nowadays are missing out on.

First, I found a bunch of popular decks that are not viable anymore because key pieces rotated out. Izzetron doesn't work without the Urza lands. White-based beatdown decks (like Zoo, Boros, or Blue-White) are truly missing their Savannah Lions and Isamaru, Hound of Konda. All the Snakes rotated out. Dragonstorm doesn't combo quite as well without Seething Song. Other combo decks, like Enduring Ideal, Erayo, and Heartbeat of Spring are missing their signature cards. Magnivore is no more. And Phyrexian Arena control decks are missing the key enchantment. Lots of old favorites, but hard to recreate in their old fashion.

Next, I came across a bunch of decks that are still seeing play, such as Solar Flare or Satanic Sligh (sometimes in slightly different form, but the key strategies are still present). And eventually I found groups of decks that should still be competitively viable today, but that nobody runs anymore, and that's what this search was all about. Here goes my suggestion of old underappreciated strategies that should still be able to fare well in the current Standard format.

Birds and Elves Team Up Again

Birds of Paradise
About one year ago, there were lots of decks around whose goal it was to use a turn-one Llanowar Elves or Birds of Paradise in order to accelerate into a turn-two three-drop opening. This could be an Ohran Viper, Hypnotic Specter, or Trygon Predator. These are very good creatures that like to be played as quickly as possible, since then they get to use their combat damage effects sooner, and control decks have trouble dealing with them if you play them as early as turn two. Other options were aiming for a turn-two Stone Rain or Cryoclasm. We had the 8 Stone Rain deck, Vipies, Ninja Pile, Sea Stompy, Blue-Green Aggro, and Blue-Green Graft. Some cards (such as Umezawa's Jitte, Meloku the Clouded Mirror, and Ninja of the Deep Hours) have rotated out, but the general idea of using Birds and Elves to accelerate into a turn-two Ohran Viper has remained valid, and I think this mid-range philosophy is underused.

Green-Black Birds and Elves

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This is a modern-day version that still tries to overwhelm the opponent with quality creatures as quickly as possible. Almost every single creature has to be answered immediately by control decks, or their card advantage will soon win the game. No opponent can allow Dark Confidant, Hypnotic Specter, or Ohran Viper to live for long. This deck could also splash a third color if you'd want; white for Loxodon Hierarch or red for Demonfire are valid options. I chose not to run Call of the Herd, because of all those Blink decks with Riftwing Cloudskates and Venser, Shaper Savant. I included Tarmogoyf, which should be able to grow quickly with the black discard spells and is a good answer to opposing Tarmogoyfs. Loxodon Warhammer fits perfectly into mid-range decks like these. It give an extra use for stray Elves and Birds in the late game, it is a lethal combo with Troll Ascetic, and giving an Ohran Viper trample is even better, because if your opponent chump blocks you still get to draw a card. If you can take only one thing away from this article, it is that Loxodon Warhammer is decidedly awesome in mid-range creature strategies like these.

You may be scared about running those highly flammable Elves into a sea of Mogg Fanatics and Seal of Fires, but trading one-for-one against those is not all that bad, especially since you still have 22 lands left to work with even if all your mana guys die. One year ago all these decks played around 20 lands, but now that you have Treetop Village to mitigate the risks of mana flood, it is fair to go up to 22, so losing mana creatures does not mean an immediate loss.

The Lingering Ghost of the Orzhov Guild

Black-white decks were all over the place about a year ago. Ghost Council of Orzhova is a very strong card, so it deserves to have a deck built around it. We had Ghost Dad (based around Arcane / Spirit synergy), Hand in Hand (with a good stuff philosophy), and Ghost Husk (abusing Promise of Bunrei). We are missing Umezawa's Jitte, and various creatures such as Isamaru, Hound of Konda and synergy cards, but a combination of white and black cards is still a very valid strategy even now. At the last World Championships, we came across Panda Connection, which I have tried to re-enact a little bit.

Black-White Ghost Council

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This black-white aggro deck has a weenie mana curve starting at one and going up to four. The one-drop is a special one: Martyr of Sands. No, there is no Proclamation of Rebirth in the deck. It is simply a fine 1/1 beater for one mana that hits for some points against control decks and that tends to be very good against all the red burn decks. Furthermore, Martyr ensures you don't die to your best two-drop: Dark Confidant. Most other creatures are white as well, because the one drop was white as well and that makes the mana base smoother. Once you equip Paladin en-Vec with a Loxodon Warhammer to smash red decks, I am sure you can appreciate the white weenie creatures again. You can tweak this deck in many directions; the main choice is leaning towards white or black. If you'd choose the latter, you could replace Martyr of Sands and Knight of the Holy Nimbus with Plagued Rusalka and Withered Wretch. This may be a superior choice if there are not many red burn decks in your area, as then Martyr is not so hot. Or you could add a discard theme, with Ravenous Rats and Shrieking Grotesque. That is also a very valid option (although I wouldn't go overboard on extra discard spells and The Rack; I am not a big fan of that strategy). No matter how you do it, if you start a deck with Dark Confidant, Ghost Council of Orzhova, and Castigate, you should arrive at something good. This is a competitive deck.

Caught in a Snowy Blizzard

Scrying Sheets
Right after Coldsnap came out, many snow decks with Scrying Sheets naturally sprung up. It is quite obvious why that happened. Lands that draw cards (remember Library of Alexandria?) are very powerful, as you don't have to trim spells to include this card drawer. You could easily make half of your deck snow and draw an extra card once every two turns. However, this amazingly overwhelming card advantage engine has not been used much as of late, and I don't really understand why.

Soon after the release of Coldsnap, we came across Blue-Black Winterbalance (a deck that used Sensei's Divining Top to make the most out of Dark Confidant, Counterbalance, and Scrying Sheets, in similar fashion to Structure & Force). We also saw the red-green KarstenBotBabyKiller.

After the release of Time Spiral, there was no Sensei's Divining Top anymore to break Scrying Sheets, but people still played Blue-Black Snow Control, Blue-Red Snow Control, and Blue-White Snow Control to good results. By staying in just two colors, these draw-go style decks opened up their mana base to include Scrying Sheets. Between lands and Phyrexian Ironfoot, you'd get to draw a free card about half of the time. Perhaps the best snow decks nowadays would be blue-based or black-based control (only one or two colors), but I chose to make a deck that truly showcases the power of snow, with cards such as Into the North and Skred.

Red-Green Snow

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This deck may remind you of KarstenBotBabyLover, but it is a bit different because Stone Rain is not legal anymore and Cryoclasm is not good for the maindeck, because nowadays one in three decks don't run Plains or Islands. So the incentive of accelerating into a turn-two land destruction card has been replaced with aggro elements in Troll Ascetic and Giant Solifuge. This deck attacks for some damage, and when the board stalls it starts to draw cards with Scrying Sheets. Into the North will happily go and fetch it for you as well. You then draw into the snowy Stalking Yeti, use it to peck off the opponent's creatures, then proceed to destroy a big guy with Skred for the low-low price of one mana, and eventually finish with a Demonfire to the dome in the long game.

And Lastly, Some Declining Decks that Were Still Hot Just a Few Months Ago

Roughly one year ago, around the time of the World Championships, a bunch of relatively new decks appeared. For instance, we saw Solar Pox (which was eventually replaced by Solar Flare because Smallpox was not a good card) and Blue-White CounterMesa (which was eventually outclassed by Dralnu du Louvre). Furthermore, remember how Gabriel Nassif piloted a Proclamation MartyrTron deck to the Top 8 of the World Championships last year? The advent of hate cards such as Sulfur Elemental and Extirpate ruined this deck, and nowadays many players have Rain of Gore against Aven Riftwatcher and Tormod's Crypt against NarcoBridge in their sideboards already, which does not make for a good environment to run Proclamation of Rebirth in. I am glad no one plays it anymore though, because it caused way too many draws.

But I am most surprised that no Mono-Blue Pickles decks showed up in the recent National Championships. First of all, it is by far the most popular strategy in Time Spiral Block Constructed. And secondly, you can check my articles here and here to see that Mono-Blue Pickles was the most popular Standard deck in January of this year. Looking at those two factors, I find it quite strange that Mono-Blue Pickles is of no significance in the current Standard.

Mono-Blue Pickles

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The Vesuvan Shapeshifter plus Brine Elemental synergy needs no introduction, especially if you have been playing Block Constructed as of late. The Standard port cuts Riftwing Cloudskates for more countermagic, amongst other choices.

In conclusion, there are still lots of underappreciated options out there in Standard. The Standard format is so open and diverse, without a clear best deck, such that it becomes very hard to metagame and the best option is probably to just take a strong strategy in the abstract. I hope today's article has highlighted some fun choices for you. All the decklists that I have presented are fairly quick drafts that can certainly use some tuning and sideboards, but after some tweaking I would not be unhappy to take any of these decks to battle. Finally, I am sure I also missed a couple old favorites in my review. Is there any card or deck in Standard that you believe to be undervalued? Sound off in the forums and let me know!

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