Posted in NEWS on December 12, 2013

By Mike Rosenberg

Mike Rosenberg is a writer and gamer and has been part of the Magic text coverage team since 2011. He joined Wizards as organized play’s content specialist in June 2014.

5 - Thoughtseize

Information is powerful. Very powerful. Thoughtseize does a whole lot more than simply provide its user with a powerful form of disruption. It also ensures that the coast is clear; that no traps or tricks are waiting in your opponent's hand, waiting for you to step into them. The timing of casting Thoughtseize is just as important as taking the right card. When it comes to a discard spell as powerful as Thoughtseize, it is key to save it for when you know exactly what you need to strip from your opponent's hand in order for your threats to go unanswered.

We saw that timing played to good effect when Grand Prix Dallas Fort Worth Champion Marlon Gutierrez stripped Hall of Famer William Jensen of a Divination in the third game of the finals. That play changed the impact of Jensen's hand, which he needed to draw into more lands in order to truly take off. Instead, he was left grounded, and missed a key land drop on the fourth turn. From there, Gutierrez was able to use Thoughtseize to strip his opponent of key answers to the threats he then deployed, making sure the path was safe for his Sin Collector and Lifebane Zombies to ultimately win the game.

4 - Spear of Heliod

It's been a while since we've seen a Glorious Anthem putting in some serious work in a Standard format, but the three mana legendary artifact enchantment has been a big part of the White Weenie decks we've seen this weekend. The Spear provides a very important increase in power that helps the deck get over big hurdles such as the format-defining planeswalker Jace, Architect of Thought. We saw how this could mess with a control player's game plan in the Quarterfinals when the threat of a Spear of Heliod from Ben Stark kept Eric Centauri from deploying his Jace in their second game, knowing that it would just put him behind drastically.

The Spear also helps White Weenie players in providing a major trump against other creature decks. Is Desecration Demon giving you trouble? Pay three mana after you take your lumps and get rid of it. The same can be said for most creatures out of the devotion decks, where losing a creature to a simple activated effect could mean the difference between your devotion cards taking over a game or never getting off of the ground. Regardless, it is clear that the Spear is one godly weapon that white creature lovers should not overlook.

3 - Xenagos, the Reveler

Previously seen in Makihito Mihara's Colossal Gruul deck from Pro Tour Theros , Xenagos, the Reveler, has seen better days. The Gruul Devotion deck has fallen out of popularity, and Xenagos has fallen by the wayside alongside it. Now relegated to the sideboards of Monored Devotion decks, Xenagos seemed likely to be a fringe player at best.

Things have changed. Thanks to the rise of Mono-Black Devotion and Azorius Control, this powerful Planeswalker has been given a new life. As a constant source of hasty creatures, Xenagos gives decks like Azorius and Mono-Black fits if he's able to resolve. The mana ability is relevant, but Xenagos's true strength lies in the bevy of Satyrs that answer his beck and call. All it takes is two or three activations to get out of hand, and not even a Supreme Verdict can end the tide of Satyrs. Semifinalist Carlos Becerra Reyes used Xenagos to great effect against Haibing Hu's Mono-Black Devotion deck, absolutely running him over. Hu had the removal spells to deal with a few early threats from Reyes, but once Xenagos hit play, the one-for-one removal Hu's deck offered proved too slow to keep up.

2 - Pack Rat

It's hard to believe that the terror that ruled Return to Ravnica Limited has become a major player in the Standard metagame, but by now, it has been firmly established through multiple Grand Prix successes - and especially after Owen Turtenwald's victory at Grand Prix Albuquerque with four Pack Rats in the main deck - that the Limited boogeyman is here to stay for a while as one of Standard's most devastating win conditions.

The Rats are of course known for their ability to steal games when played on the second turn, as an unanswered Pack Rat can quickly multiply out of control, its user not needing to cast another card for the duration of the game so long as a single Pack Rat remains. However, they also serve as a fine way to close out a game that has been stabilized. We saw a great example of this in the Semifinals, when Marlon Gutierrez used Pack Rat in the second game to close out a stabilized game against No. 1 Ranked Player Ben Stark, whose board was whittled down to nothing while Gutierrez's rats slowly multiplied and finished off the Hall of Famer.

1 - Last Breath

One of the most interesting things to watch in this Standard environment is the evolution of the removal spells of choice. In the earliest days, Doom Blade was the go-to spell to remove virtually everything of value in the format. With the rise of Mono-Black Devotion and the dominance of Nightveil Specter coming to bear, Doom Blade has fallen on hard times. Players have searched high and low for the correct mix of Hero's Downfall, Doom Blade, Devour Flesh, and Ultimate Price to complete the removal suite of Esper Control. In any case, it appeared that Esper was the primary voice in Standard control.

Enter Last Breath. Capable of removing Nightveil Specter, Mutavault, and most of the other big aggressive threats in this format, Last Breath fills an important new role in Standard. The rediscovery of this removal spell has led to the rise of Azorius Control, seen most notably in the performances of Seth Manfield and Huey Jensen this weekend. Comprising effectively the same amount of the field as Esper Control, Last Breath gives the Azorius Control deck access to the spot removal black offered, without needing to dip into another color. With Blood Baron of Vizkopa and Thoughtseize seeing less and less play, there is less impetus to stretch the mana and play esper. In addition, the long game plan of Azorius Control cares little for the lifegain offered to the opponents. Against the tide of Mono-Black Devotion and Whip of Erebos, the fact that creatures get exiled by Last Breath really comes into play, as well. This seemingly restrictive removal spell has proven its worth this weekend, and sets the stage for an important role in weeks to come.