Primed for Success

Posted in Perilous Research on October 9, 2014

By Jacob Van Lunen

Jacob Van Lunen began playing Magic in 1995. He has participated in organized play at every level of competition and was a member of the winning team at Pro Tour San Diego in 2007, thanks to an innovative draft strategy. As a writer, Van Lunen has had more than three hundred Magic strategy pieces published

Welcome back to Perilous Research,'s exclusive Magic Online column. Khans of Tarkir is finally here on Magic Online. And if our fingers aren't already bleeding from Sealed events, we should really be getting in as much practice with the new set as possible. With a new set comes new and exciting Constructed implications, and Khans of Tarkir introduces a lot of serious power to various Constructed formats. Today, we'll be taking a look at some of the most exciting cards from the new set and discussing how they could potentially dominate the new Standard format.

Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir starts tomorrow. This means we'll finally have an opportunity to see what the pros are able to accomplish with the new cards. Round 4 of Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir will undoubtedly be the most exciting Magic moment of the year, and it might be the most exciting Standard Magic moment in the last decade. There's a lot of uncertainty about the new format. Turn-four combos, exciting new Planeswalkers, and countless powerhouse cards with demanding mana costs mean that creativity and originality will be rewarded.

Let's not just play Pin the Tail on the Donkey with regard to which new cards are going to perform well. I find that one of the best ways to approach a new Standard format with intent before a Pro Tour is to look at the previous Block Constructed format and imagine which cards from the new sets would be best positioned there. Then I look at the first-week events results and adjust my view accordingly.

Looking at Theros Block Constructed we see a format dominated by Courser of Kruphix, which only gets stronger with the introduction of fetch lands. Courser of Kruphix encourages players to jump headfirst into the green part of Standard and discourages players from playing spells that have double mana symbols of another color. The card encourages aggressive players to play with inexpensive creatures that have the ability to tango successfully with Courser of Kruphix with less of a mana investment. For example, Monastery Swiftspear and Seeker of the Way may not beat Courser of Kruphix without help, but there are a seemingly endless number of ways they can win that fight for two mana.

Decks that play Courser of Kruphix are unlikely to be playing board-sweeping effects for the most part. There are exceptions to this train of thought; for example, a deck could play inexpensive removal, and creatures that all have 4 or more toughness, and include Anger of the Gods as a potential one-sided board-sweeping effect. For the most part, though, it's unlikely that we'll be seeing much in the way of true control as long as Courser and Planeswalkers trump the cleared-board strategy of a true control deck.

Magic 2015 threw another big dog into the mix. Goblin Rabblemaster is capable of winning a game by itself in just a few turns. Casting Goblin Rabblemaster into a tapped-out opponent always puts the controller ahead in Game 1. We can expect Goblin Rabblemaster to be one of the biggest cards at the Pro Tour. Goblin Rabblemaster encourages players to be aggressive, and again it discourages players from playing board-sweeping effects.

The successful decks from the earliest Standard events from the new format can mostly be broken down into one of these two categories. Courser of Kruphix decks and Goblin Rabblemaster decks will be public enemies number one and two at Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir.

Essentially, we'll need to find cards that match up well against Planeswalkers, Courser of Kruphix, and Goblin Rabblemaster. Let's go hunting!

What new cards have the potential to be big players in the new Standard environment?

Jeskai Ascendancy is the boogieman of the format. It's actually terrifying for this card to exist. Mix in a creature that produces mana, Retraction Helix, and another permanent that cost one mana; and suddenly we're drawing our deck and giving all of our creatures lethal power. The Standard combo isn't the most stable thing in the world, but the player or team of players able to find the right formula for this powerful combo will surely make a big splash at the Pro Tour. And even if they do poorly because a lot of hate shows up, the format will look drastically different from that point forward.

Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker has the ability to assassinate other Planeswalkers or Courser of Kruphix the turn he enters play, and the pressure only continues to grow with each passing turn. As far as pure power level goes, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker is likely the best card for Standard in Khans of Tarkir.

Siege Rhino is just a tremendous card. The drain effect is huge against aggressive opponents who want to force a race with a ton of burn spells. And trample is a nice way to set up removal spells to take out opposing Planeswalkers.

Mantis Rider might be my favorite card in the set. It's really good to get into the air with haste when we're looking to beat Courser of Kruphix, Goblin Rabblemaster, and Planeswalkers. Vigilance means we can always get a discount on Stoke the Flames while also discouraging attacks from Goblin Rabblemasters.

Murderous Cut will often cost one mana and kill something like Polukranos. Even if we're spending two mana and just killing Courser of Kruphix, we're still getting a very good deal.

Dig Through Time is the great hope for control players. We'll likely see more permanent-based control decks with a decent amount of countermagic and Dig Through Time at some point in this Standard iteration. The card selection and advantage provided for such a low entry cost make this a very scary top end. We need to be countering opposing Planeswalkers, and this card is probably the best thing we can have in our deck when we're trading cards that cost two and three for cards that cost four and five.

The new Charms are all exceptionally powerful. Temur Charm combos with Hornet Nest, which is one of the better cards for the new Standard. Jeskai Charm kills Planeswalkers, creatures, and sometimes players. Abzan Charm and Mardu Charm are Swiss army knives that will always be great draw steps at any point in a game. Even Sultai Charm may see play in some capacity as a two-of.

Khans of Tarkir sure has a lot of goodies, but the new cards and the rotation are sure to change which existing cards are best for the new Standard environment. What existing legal cards are best positioned to take advantage of the new format's weaknesses?

Hornet Nest seems like the biggest slam dunk for me. It's becoming more and more clear that white and black removal spells are being traded in for red cards. The decks that aren't trying to burn their way to victory are usually playing big green monsters, which are exceptionally weak to the Nest. We can combo this with Temur Charm for makeshift Hornet Queen action. The card forces a lot of players to post-combat Goblin Rabblemaster, which is hilarious. Basically, it's good against red and green cards, and those seem to be the majority of what we'll be playing against in the new Standard.

Ordeal of Thassa makes the Heroic deck a significantly less reckless proposition. Heroic may seem a bit cheesy, but the deck is very good in the new Standard. And its best draws can seem unbeatable if you're playing permanents and don't have two or three removal spells. I expect Heroic to be stalking the shadows of the new Standard, coming out to win a tournament when people are unprepared, but often losing to the removal-laden decks. Either way, we can expect Ordeal of Thassa to make its high-level Standard Constructed debut in the coming week.

Perilous Vault is suddenly one of the best board-sweeping effects in Standard. Most people seem to be mixing Planeswalkers with their creatures. And End Hostilities seems like it will be answered with a Planeswalker on the following turn too often for the card to be the pillar of the control decks. Perilous Vault lets us play all the colors except white in our control deck while still having access to a nice board sweeper.

Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver does tremendous work in a format where the third turn is the most important moment. Especially on the play, Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver has the ability to take over a game without ever letting the opponent back in. We often get to play multiple three-drops or a single four-drop out of our opponent's deck for free, and we force the opponent to shift pressure to Ashiok if he or she wants to be successful. The power of this card drops significantly if Mantis Rider takes over the format, but we're still a distance from that point in time.

Prognostic Sphinx was a big player at the Block Constructed Pro Tour. It matches up well against Planeswalkers and Mantis Rider and it ensures that our draws remain consistent as the game goes late. The card works especially well in a deck with a decent amount of removal, and it can deal with the potentially more impressive five-drop that will be played on the following turn.

Pro Tour Khans of Tarkir is coming. Be sure to tune in to all the action here on Standard format is about to be turned on its head. Next week, we'll have some solid data to work with from Magic Online and we'll have an opportunity to see how things shake out in the aftermath of the Pro Tour.

Knowledge is power!

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