A few months ago, amid his whirlwind of top finishes with Bant Control, Reid Duke said he thought Falkenrath Aristocrat was—if not the best card in Standard—the best card against Bant Control...
Does Gatecrash provide something special for Bant that might help it cope with the dangerous duo of speed and resilience offered by that particular (and particularly hasty) 4/1 flier?
My prediction is that Blind Obedience will turn out quite a bit more deadly (and interesting for deck designers) than it seems at first glance; I would put it in the same camp as Rest in Peace: A enchantment that might not seem to do anything to the battlefield at first blush, but that can be worth much more than a card in practice.
To wit: Tarmogoyfs don't go straight to the graveyard or anything with Rest in Peace in play... but they don't have nearly their usual value. Reanimator strategies can in theory cast their spells... but to what end?
- Falkenrath Aristocrat won't attack the turn it is cast. So just having a Blind Obedience on the battlefield is like printing 4 life points for every Falkenrath Aristocrat the opponent draws (and 5 for every Thundermaw Hellkite, and some variable amount for every Hellrider). All "trading" for just one Blind Obedience.
- These haste creatures suddenly get vulnerable to sorcery-speed removal. What usually makes them so dangerous is the ability to hit—and hit hard—taking advantage of a gap in fast instant-speed removal from the Bant deck. Now, every Supreme Verdict (and in particular, Terminus, since we are talking about Falkenrath Aristocrat) is going to look better and better.
But sadly, that's not all!
Of all the new magical spells in Gatecrash, Skullcrack seems the best poised to grow up into "cross-format all-star" position. Players at many levels can already envision Skullcrack next to Bump in the Night or even main deck in Legacy RDW (Red Deck Wins).
But today, of all the decks in Standard, Bant Control may be the most vulnerable, most immediately, to Skullcrack's particular blend of troublemaking.
Bant Control plays both Thragtusk and Sphinx's Revelation main deck! And while magicicans with glasses half-full will all quickly rally to the "fact" that you still get a 5/3 body or can still draw quite a number of cards with a successful Sphinx's Revelation... the reflective Bant player knows in his or her heart of hearts that the writing is on the wall with Skullcrack in the mix.
Body, yes; cards, sure... but what gave this strategy via those spells the necessary oomph to live to fight another turn was the lifegain. In particular, when Bant is angling to tap out for such a big bomb... Skullcrack in the sweaty hands of an opportunistic beatdown player is going to spell doom.
You go ahead and enjoy those three cards, buddy.
But wait... that's still not all!
Honorable Mention Enemy... Blind Obedience?
While Blind Obedience will probably be more problematic for beatdown in the hands—or rather on the battlefields—of the cagey control mage, it bears mentioning that Blind Obedience under an opponent's control can make for some sticky spots for Bant Control. Sure, you can still unlock the Restoration Angel + Thragtusk achievement (that's still cool)... but it will be far less explosive defensively. Whether your Thragtusk was up or tapped previously... it ain't blocking when it comes back this time around. Ditto for the new token. And ditto for Restoration Angel! Should Bant run afoul of Blind Obedience, roughly 0% of its usually tricksy Restoration Angels will be mugging Hellriders.
Another day, another creature enchantment!
Gift of Orzhova is a little expensive, but it represents a pretty high-impact new pair of pants for Geist of Saint Traft to try on. Flying is a big game for Geist, considering how difficult it is to deal with that particular hexproof threat (your only hope, usually, being to try to block and trade with it). But with racing such an important element of the hexproof-on-hexproof game (and less-but-still important elsewhere), the ability to gain life via lifelink can also be attractive.
But not everything is coming up Piznarski for Bant Hexproof.
Gatecrash giveth and Gatecrash taketh away... big bodies, in this case.
General operating procedure for Bant Hexproof in many games is to get out a hard-to-target guy, slap more and more pants onto it, and attack the opponent to death with some huge threat. It's not the only plan, but it can be a good one, especially when you can comingle size with striking power.
But when the opponent has Devour Flesh?
Bant Hexproof must be a bit more careful, to say the least.
The deck will now not only be much more exposed to removal in general (previously, there were substantially fewer ways to interact with your Geist of Saint Traft or Invisible Stalker), but when that removal hits... Bant Hexproof might just be throwing several cards into the graveyard at once.
If there is one thing the "Superfriends" macro-archetype loves, it's a four-mana Planeswalker. Welcome aboard, Gideon, Champion of Justice!
Players started off really bullish on Gideon, so a cool down in hype was maybe inevitable... but if there is one deck that can really enjoy the tension of Gideon's combination of being able to work the opponent's board and his attractive CMC, it's Esper Control. That deck can lay Planeswalker after Planeswalker and really build and build a snowball of advantages.
Here, Gideon can make nice with many extant Planeswalkers. Sorin, Lord of Innistrad; Jace, Architect of Thought; and Tamiyo, the Moon Sage all have something in common: when their "plus" abilities start upping, the opponent must commit more and more resources—in general, creatures—in order to get in damage or interact with the increasingly oppressive 'walkers.
That's great for Gideon!
In case you missed it, Ultimate Gideon and Ultimate Tamiyo, the Moon Sage are good buddies.
Ooh... and in Esper colors, you say? Sign me up!
Not so fast, newly minted Merciless Eviction fan! Esper Walkers might love Merciless Eviction some of the time... but that deck is also uniquely vulnerable to the new sweep spell. What did we just say about dropping more and more Planeswalkers in order to build bigger and bigger advantages?
Esper Walkers is not traditionally a very permission-rich deck. Some permission, maybe, but no Draw-Go if you gather. When facing black-with-white mana, Esper is going to have to—ahem—Think Twice about how many Planeswalkers it wants to commit to the battlefield.
Champion of the Parish has been the catalyst to many explosive openings for Humans decks in the past, standing in for Delver of Secrets in some white-blue decks, riding Gather the Townsfolk to hit hard on turn two, and most recently adding some speed and striking power to the generally more methodical Naya strategy in Standard. Thragtusk? What Thragtusk?
Experiment One is Human; ergo, it can come out via the same Cavern of Souls. It is a little harder to buff than Champion of the Parish but is still going to ride high as your curve progresses. Unlike the original, Experiment One can do something interesting with its +1/+1 counters... and so can give a Humans deck some resistance to sweep spells (which are traditionally troublesome for the archetype).
Aurelia's Fury is going to be one of the big cards to come out of Gatecrash; and this isn't going to be the last time we talk about it in even just this article...
What you have to know here is that decks that put out lots of small creatures... they are uniquely vulnerable to Aurelia's Fury. You can think of it as just another sweep spell, but it's not; in addition to being a kind of weird Abeyance... it is also an instant. Ergo, your guard should be up in all the usual ways, but also watch out for the health of any Rancors.
Earlier, we talked about Falkenrath Aristocrat and how that card is scary for Bant Control. We think of Falkenrath Aristocrat as a "Rakdos" or "Rakdos Red" card... but when it first came out, its first big appearance was in Block Humans Reanimator decks!
Cartel Aristocrat is obviously a lower-impact threat than Falkenrath Aristocrat, but it might just have some interesting advantages. For most versions of Reanimator, it will be easier to cast. You can get some board presence online faster, and it gives you a pretty solid sacrifice outlet. While not spectacularly powerful, Cartel Aristocrat's ability to set up bigger swings with Angel of Glory's Rise might translate to more damage via Goldnight Commander and free life alongside Cathedral Sanctifier.
Better or worse than Cremate?
Is a 1/1 flier better or worse than a random card off the top of your deck?
In any case, Beckon Apparition is just another anti-graveyard card Reanimator decks are going to have to keep in mind when going for the big turn... and this one is out of white.
The card not only gives you a catalyst threat for your Runechanter's Pike, but it also boosts the Pike at the same time. It's good both with and against Snapcaster Mage... and for the purposes of curious Reanimator decks, will ask for some perseverance out of Unburial Rites and its intended targets.
Rakdos Red and RDW
Pyreheart Wolf and Hellhole Flailer consistently rank as the least popular points on the Rakdos Red and RDW curves for those Standard beatdown decks. Will Boros Reckoner take up the challenge of the three?
Here we have a card that seems to shore up a lot of the shortcomings of the other three-mana creatures. Unlike Pyreheart Wolf, Boros Reckoner can live through a Pillar of Flame. Not only can it live through a Pillar of Flame, it will punish an opponent for insolently trying to destroy it with burn spells.
Like Hellhole Flailer, this is a three that can rumble dangerously through the red zone... and also get some incidental damage in.
Many Red mages will take comfort in its ability to kill a Thragtusk outright in battle and live to tell the tale.
Everything we said already about Blind Obedience still sticks, with one more point: Extort is a real ability, and lifegain matters against a Red Deck.
Red Decks often sneak in or steal some damage early, fall somewhat behind as their opponents get their typically-more-powerful cards online, but then ultimately win with some well-placed burn cards, often to the exasperation of their opposite numbers.
That is a harder road to navigate when the opponent has access to extort.
The small lifegain on extort can really add up, especially when you consider a card like Blind Obedience has a job outside of just poking the opponent for 1. Blind Obedience was already weakening your Hellriders! But if you think about it another way, not only does having Blind Obedience give the control opponent a potential clock, but just two extorts will "undo" a Pillar of Flame.
Aurelia's Fury seems tailor made for a deck with Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage. The Flash strategy already wanted to play Sphinx's Revelation. Gerry Thompson improved the once-merely-WU Flash deck with Pillar of Flame to combat Gravecrawler, and later mages with "the tech" added Searing Spear to slay both Hellriders and opponents.
But all is not well in either Denmark or Flash's corner of Dominaria.
Flash has a fair number of things going for it, but resilient creatures isn't a strong point. Many of its creatures are just plain small, and Snapcaster Mage is in particular light on toughness.
The deck has traditionally used Moorland Haunt to close out games. This land can not only recoup some value from dead Wizards and Angels, but also gives Flash another way to take advantage of Thought Scour beyond Snapcaster Mage.
Illness in the Ranks isn't a super obviously slam dunk superstar... but it is cheap. Reminiscent of Dread of Night, one Illness in the Ranks makes life tough for Lingering Souls and Moorland Haunt. Can it be answered? Sure... if you know it's coming. That doesn't make it any less cheap or less relevant against Flash's main plan to close out games where it has lost a lot of creatures.
Gatecrash has lots of everything for—and against—existing archetypes. Which ones are you looking forward to (or scared you'll see)?