One of the fairly obvious build around me synergies of Magic 2014 Limited is the powerful red-black deck centered around Act of Treason and the varied sacrificial outlets offered by black. This was a minor part of World Championship Top 4 competitor Ben Stark's undefeated Booster Draft deck. Featuring Vampire Warlord and Gnawing Zombie, Stark's deck had a single copy of Act of Treason which he used to great effect against Willy Edel, stealing Edel's remaining blocker before sacrificing it to his Warlord.
Things get even more out of hand in Team Sealed, where the red/black sacrifice deck was easily one of the most adopted strategies of the over seventy teams in the World Magic Cup. Team Sealed gives teams twelve packs to build from, resulting in some pools with three or four Acts of Treason to steal cards with. It becomes more of a Constructed deck than a Limited one at this point. Three Acts of Treason and three or four sacrificial outlets can be nearly impossible to beat, even in a format with decks as rich as Team Sealed. While everyone clearly wanted to try out the new Slivers in a team environment, it was the Act of Treason deck that truly stole the show.
Nonbasic lands are the unsung heroes of Constructed formats, the glue that holds it all together, if you will. Without Stomping Ground, we wouldn't be able to consistently cast our Domri Rades or Huntmaster of the Fells. It would be very difficult to make a mana base that could both support a turn-one Elvish Mystic as well as Hellrider, and our Rootbound Crags would come into play tapped more often than not. Stomping Ground made its impact known on Wednesday, when Brian Kibler went 3-0 with his well-positioned Gruul Aggro deck in the Standard portion of the World Championship. Once that deck became a known commodity, Stomping Ground turned into the main dividing point for teams in the Team Unified Standard format.
"You can only play one Stomping Ground deck," was commonly overheard at Magic World Cup teams building their Team Unified Standard decks. Some went with Kibler's Gruul deck. Others, including the eventual World Magic Cup holder France, chose Jund. One way or another, it was an essential dividing point that impacted the format as a whole.
The nonbasic nature of Stomping Ground also ties in to one of the other important cards of this weekend: Burning Earth. Have you taken a look at the mana bases of UWR Flash or Jund Midrange lately? Let me tell you: they contain almost exclusively nonbasic lands. Burning Earth, a new addition from Magic 2014, put its mark on the Standard formats as it forces deck builders to pay far more attention to the nonbasic land counts of their decks and punishes the greedy. It was a major contributing factor to the decision by many teams to run a simpler UW or UB deck instead of UWR Flash, against which Burning Earth is simply devastating.
Some people just like to watch the world burn.
The Mystic is a member of the newest class of impact creatures to hit Standard, a class that includes powerful cards like Lifebane Zombie and Fiendslayer Paladin. Statistically, the Mystic doesn't even come close to matching the power of the rest of the class, but it more than makes up for it in sheer impact. The newest mana critter on the block, the Mystic is the first one-mana creature to reliably tap for green in a while. In a vacuum, this isn't anything too special. Considering the state of Standard recently, however, the ability to reliably cast cards like Strangleroot Geist and Garruk, Primal Hunter, has become something of a commodity. Brian Kibler added them to his Gruul Aggro deck, a deck that became one of the big stories of the World Magic Cup as well.
Combined with the other one-drop mana producers of Standard, Avacyn's Pilgrim and Arbor Elf, the new kid on the block was also instrumental in the creation of two of the most exciting new decks in Standard: Elfball and World Magic Cup Champion Raphaël Lévy's Mono-Green. The former uses these mana critters to power out a fast Garruk, Caller of Beasts, to, well, call beasts, often drawing three or four cards to fill back up. Eventually, Craterhoof Behemoth is either cast or just dropped into play via Garruk, and people just die. Lévy eschews the new Caller of Beats to instead use Mystic as a soul mate for Druid's Familiar or Wolfir Silverheart, accelerated out thanks to the Mystic. Both decks are exciting new additions to Standard, and they exist mostly due to our innocuous little friend.
Rakdos's Return was absolutely ubiquitous this weekend. From the World Magic Cup's Unified Standard to the World Championship's Modern, Jund was simply all over the place. Return happens to be an incredibly important card in the Jund mirror match, as well as the matchup against UWR Flash, one of the other decks that dominated the landscape of this weekend. Based solely on this, Return would have likely had a strong enough case to make its way onto this list.
Then it had to go and do something like make one of the most memorable top-decks and reactions in Magic history.
Down to the final game of the final match in the finals of the World Magic Cup, France found the rug pulled out from underneath it as the powerful Olivia Voldaren hit the table for Hungary's Adorjan Korbl and took a game that seemed locked up for France's Timothée Simonot and put it one attack away from a defeat. Staring down at the lethal Vampire mistress, Simonot reveled in the suspense of his last draw, slowly peeling and windmilling the top card of his deck onto the table. With the Return now visible to all, Simonot tapped all of his mana, burning the rest of the Hungarian's life away, securing France's first World Team Championship, and giving us yet one more top-deck for the ages.
A picture of versatility, Cryptic Command virtually does it all. Certainly instrumental in the UWR Flash mirror match, where the ability to function as either a method of gaining a mana advantage or a cantripping Counterspell is incredibly potent. World Champion Shahar Shenhar both used and faced incredibly potent Commands in his intense semifinals match against newly-minted Hall of Famer Ben Stark. At one point, Stark locked up an advantageous board position with a string of Snapcaster Mages and Cryptic Commands, using the Commands to counter a spell and return the Snapcaster for another use.
From countering spells to drawing cards to returning permanent, the powerful Lorwyn rare was used in every combination of modes except Counterspell/tap over the course of the elimination rounds of the World Championship. The mode that mattered the most, however, was the ability for Shenhar to interact with the army of untouchable hexproof creatures in finalist Reid Duke's Bogle Auras deck. In addition to providing a way for Shenhar to tap Duke's creatures, giving him a chance to race, it allowed him to bounce the powerful Totem Auras in Duke's deck, allowing Supreme Verdict to actually clear the hexproof monstrosities away. While other cards may get more screen time, such as the Lightning Bolts and Helixes used to actually win the finals, it was the Cryptic Commands he used in Games 2 and 3 that even enabled him to get to that point.