Unleashing the Awesome

Posted in Top Decks on September 27, 2012

By Mike Flores

Michael Flores is the author of Deckade and The Official Miser's Guide; the designer of numerous State, Regional, Grand Prix, National, and Pro Tour–winning decks; and the onetime editor-in-chief of The Magic Dojo. He'd claim allegiance to Dimir (if such a Guild existed)… but instead will just shrug "Simic."

This upcoming weekend is the Return to Ravnica Prerelease!

The Prerelease is going to be your first chance to do battle on the plane of Ravnica in half a decade or so and, more importantly, your first shot to pick up some of the hot new cards! (So you should totally go and stuff.)

As you probably already know, Top Decks is an unabashedly Spike and Constructed-centric Magic: The Gathering column... so we'll speculate on some of the new spells from that perspective. Awesome can mean different things to different Magicians, though. The following are some score of potential difference makers ranging from personal favorites to curious (and hopefully viable) conversation-starters to yes, the obvious: Cards that look like they will prove to be Constructed murderers in the coming months... and even years!

Martial Law

Martial Law is a bit of a head scratcher. It isn't an obviously powerful card, nor does it look like the kind of card that players windmill-slam to jam into their decks. In addition, the turn you tap out for it, Martial Law... um... it kind of does nothing.

And yet...

Martial Law is, deceptively, a tremendous route to grinding, frustrating, exhausting card advantage.

Say you are a White-Blue Control deck of some stripe; untapping with a Martial Law in play can be highly advantageous in a number of threatened-by-creatures situations. I would guess the most powerful to emerge will be just sitting there while your Martial Law locks down the opponent's best threat, forcing him or her to commit more and more guys... into your spidery clutches.

With two or more down? Bam! You play the Wrath of God of your choice (Terminus or Supreme Verdict in Standard these days, probably). You not only have an obvious route to the two-for-one, but even after you blow the board—even, amazingly, if it includes a Thragtusk on the opponent's side—you have a ready-made solution to the next problem.

Combine with big blockers and you have not just a great setup card and good defense, but potentially good Planeswalker defense.

Precinct Captain

The offensive two-drop is more or less the most competitive slot for creatures in all of Magic: The Gathering (just compare any candidate to the card Lotleth Troll from this very set). In particular, in white there are any number of 2/2 creatures for White Knight, Silver Knight, Grand Abolisher—that have ranged from format-definers to key sideboard hosers. All kinds of creatures from formats various fit Precinct Captain's basic size and description.

So what gives this take such strong potential in Standard?

For one thing, it is a Human, and there is a ready-made set of synergies playing on that already (turn-one Champion of the Parish, follow up, rinse, repeat). But really?

Temple Garden into Rancor.

Rancor makes almost anything into a legitimate threat, but the added trample really helps Precinct Captain connect. Many players are willing to trade against a Rancored creature, but Precinct Captain should give them pause:

Even if you get the Precinct Captain, it is going to leave behind a little buddy, ready to be enchanted itself.

Cyclonic Rift

Vapor Snag is going to leave a sizable (ahem) rift in Standard. That 1 life point made the card so much more than a vanilla Unsummon... and while there will be a couple of different two-mana bounce spells vying for Vapor Snag's storied spot, none of those (obviously) have Vapor Snag's one-mana-ness.

And yet, here we are, talking about Cyclonic Rift!

I don't know that Cyclonic Rift is going to be the great savior of Delver of Secrets or anything, but I do think it will be a highly played role player in control-oriented decks—in particular, in Grixis colors. Cyclonic Rift is essentially a split card: Early on, it is fast creature defense (especially effective against heavy mana commitments from fatties or Equipment, or creature enchantments like Spectral Flight or Rancor)... and later?

It is just about the best Rakdos's Return setup card you could ask for!

(Rakdos's Return is my favorite card so far from Return to Ravnica).

Inaction Injunction

Three magic words...

Any guesses which three?

(I mean, anyone can select a four-mana Jace to talk about.)


Here's a hint: same three words.

They really are magic!

Competent players, given certain restrictions, have played answer spells similar to Crematewithout the words "draw a card" attached. Their presence here merely makes Cremate main-deck playable (think Nihil Spellbomb).

Oftentimes, trading a card in hand at instant speed is a decent deal against a card in the opponent's graveyard (say if he or she is about to turn that into a card in hand or card in play). Given the option, you would almost always snap-Cremate a Life from the Loam or Stinkweed Imp, even without the extra card, right?

Cremate's cantrip-ness in one of these spots can make for card advantage. In other cases (as with the less-easy-to-evaluate Inaction Injunction), it can help you cycle through your deck, often slowing down the opponent as you speed through your own stack.

Ultimate Price

No, it doesn't stop every single threat... I don't think you really want to look at it that way.

If you are in black there are probably other cards you would consider first string—Abrupt Decay in Golgari, Dreadbore in Rakdos, Victim of Night in dedicated black. Ultimate Price will probably be more of a sideboard card you bring in (1) when your opponent has a lot of appropriate targets, and/or (2) when you can get some extra mana out of it. So maybe the opponent has a multicolored high end, maybe some Hypersonic Dragons or a Dracogenius... doesn't mean you can't pick up a good trade along the way.

Consider appropriately.

Ash Zealot

Just in case you missed it.

Probably the best offensive two-drop ever for mono-red (sorry Blood Knight, sorrier Ironclaw Orcs). It is part Goblin Guide and a murderer of Snapcaster Mages in every way.

Mizzium Mortars

Just a super flexible, super powerful card that is fast when you need it to be.

I don't think Mizzium Mortars will be a particularly popular main-deck card, but I do think it will be exactly the sideboard card that certain control decks won't be able to get enough of... and will keep certain other little bears up at night.

Efficient beaters, beware!

Corpsejack Menace

There was a time that a 4/4 for four mana—even in green—had a liability attached, rather than an insane ability. Luckily for Corpsejack Menace fans... we are no longer living in that time.

Corpsejack Menace is not the most efficient power-to-casting-cost creature in the set; it's not even the most efficient four-drop in green!

But as a particular tool applied to a particular class of problem... I think it will be a breaker of substantial potential. What if everyone sees how great cards like Ash Zealot so obviously are? What if the game devolves into all beaters on the ground?

One of the best strategies will then be to muck up the ground and win a long battle over card advantage, attrition, and the isolation of key resources. Corpsejack Menace threatens to be a powerful tool in a format like that.

Consider Corpsejack Menace alongside Golgari's mechanic from Return to Ravnica: scavenge.

Yeah. I thought so.

A Corpsejack Menace in play will give your scavenge extra oomph and allow you to sculpt a compelling endgame with the help of Gavony Township: two cards, both good without the other, and bonkers when hand-in-hand.

Dreg Mangler

It's like Boggart Ram-Gang but with the possibility of a first-turn Arbor Elf setup!

What's not to love?

Armada Wurm

Armada Wurm is an interesting card to evaluate. Over the last week or two on Twitter I have been asked to answer everything from "Is Armada Wurm strictly better than Enlisted Wurm?" to evaluating its grounded 5/5s against Broodmate Dragon's 4/4 for essentially the same cost.

All these six-drops are obviously great, with Enlisted Wurm being potentially the most powerful (Bituminous Blast into Bloodbraid Elf into Blightning was my favorite thing to do in Standard, ever), but any of them are potential breakers.

The obvious deck is some kind of ramp-style, with Armada Wurm trying to fill the enormous shoes-slash-void left by the departing Primeval Titan (could be very good), but I think I like the idea of a Bant-style control deck most. If blue wanted to tap out for just one 5/5 last time around, imagine what kind of defensive posture two 5/5s presents!

Sending one Wurm into the red zone (while holding a grip full of instants, of course) and simultaneously hiding behind the other is going to be all kinds of frustrating for aggressive opponents. May I suggest a Martial Law to go with that? Armada Wurm will probably prove Return to Ravnica's premier tapout technologies for the discriminating control conjuror.

Sundering Growth

Sundering Growth is a very flexible, potentially very important, little tool for green, white, or—of course—actual Selesnya. This card can make an appearance for , , or ...

We previously had some similar effects at or ... and we called them Disenchant and Naturalize. Both of those instants have kicked butt in Pro Tour-winning decks (Loco Loconto, Justin Gary, probably others)... years before the advent of the populate mechanic.

Not long ago, the greatest player of all time was settling for a sorcery speed option at , with relatively little upside for its ability to exile.

What card were we just happily waxing over again?

So yeah, destroying the opponent's Runechanter's Pike MID-COMBAT while warping in an unexpected 5/5... yeah, it might very well be a thing.

Izzet Staticaster

Cunning Sparkmage? Meet your much, much awesomer big sister!

It has much of the functionality of a Cunning Sparkmage—an important tournament staple in its day—but with flash and a tremendous upside against certain decks. Kill all the 1/1 Saprolings you say?

Obviously, the awesomeness on Izzet Staticaster comes at a cost: over one colorless in Cunning Sparkmage, to be exact... and you lose the ability to damage opponents (not the most important given the ability to sideboard and where this card will probably start, but also not irrelevant). But I think 2 points of toughness on an already substantially played card, plus flash, plus a huge upside—particularly against small creatures—makes for an overall superb package.

Hmmm... Have we got a Basilisk Collar somewhere?

Izzet Charm

Probably the most obnoxiously playable of the Return to Ravnica Charm cycle, Izzet Charm has a pace-setting three desirable abilities. Sure, you would typically only pay or for one of those abilities and call it Spell Pierce, Dead, or Careful Study, but a body would pretty clearly profit by having any of these three effects in a decklist. The second mana is a premium on Izzet Charm's flexibility (and really, two total is not a significant barrier or penalty).

I predict this will be a four-of in many RUG, Grixis, and All-American control decks, besties forever with fellow two-drop Snapcaster Mage.

Of the Return to Ravnica Charms, Golgari Charm seems the overall weakest, Rakdos Charm seems powerful but specialized (you probably won't see a huge number main deck), and Selesnya Charm is the most cost-effective (if not a particularly great deal on the mana). Azorius Charm may very well prove a snap-four-of in revamped white-blue Delver of Secrets decks, taking the place, simultaneously, of Ponder and Vapor Snag (without, admittedly, the so-low cost on either). All will be played but Izzet will probably be the most popular out of the gate.

Dramatic Rescue

Speaking of Vapor Snag... is there any chance of Dramatic Rescue filling a point-bounce/Unsummon role?

Yeah... maybe not Vapor Snag's per se. Again, the 1 point of life (going the other way) was an important opportunity for Delver decks to play a bit of direct damage, and as has been stated in numerous card-notes, one and two mana are not the same thing at all for a fast, mana-light deck like Delver.

That said, I think Dramatic Rescue might be a contributing role player in the upcoming Standard. Bouncing your own Snapcaster Mage (after it has blocked, probably) seems like something you might want to do (especially while gaining life). Then you can replay the Snapcaster Mage, give Dramatic Rescue flashback, block again, bounce again. At some point the Snapcaster Mage can do serious work (again), and will probably have netted you two or three cards at that point, in addition to 4 life. Yes, it is probably a good thing "damage on the stack" is a thing of the past.

Even without Tiago Chan's domineering Invitational contribution, quite often, a White-Blue Control deck will want to manage it own life total anyway. And 2 points of life can be a desirable little feature while defending yourself against either early beaters (to buy time) or big fatties (to steal mana). Straight up fight against Call of the Conclave, anyone?

Supreme Verdict

Supreme Verdict might be the platonic ideal of a card that is poised to step up and into a role immediately come Return to Ravnica Standard: Automatic inclusion (if not four-of) in Azorius-capable control decks. This card will be the Wrath of God stand-in for Solar Flare, straight White-Blue Control, and essentially every variation. Assuming you can muster a single blue mana, you have essentially a better Day of Judgment.

Against a low-threat control deck, having Supreme Verdict in your deck might just ensure victory in the long term.

Consider White-Blue Miracles built on Alexander Hayne's model (Entreat the Angels being the big/primary way to win). Strategic, patient play in a deck featuring both Supreme Verdict and Detention Sphere can perhaps lead to the certainty of victory.

Slaughter Games

Speaking of which, Slaughter Games is a card built on a similar model, with an identical upside.

Brian David-Marshall has already suggested that control/low-threat decks might have to substantially re-think their top ends just because Slaughter Gamesexists... lest they find themselves in a situation where they can't win.

Cards like Cranial Extraction have always been good and have contributed to winning decks every single time they have been legal. When Cranial Extraction first appeared, Psychatog decks as far and wide as Extended had to diversify their endgame threats; most recently Memoricide faced Memoricide in the finals of the 2010 World Championships!

And considering those were both Blue-Black Control decks?

A "can't be countered" clause is probably most important in the matchups where Slaughter Games has the most impact (versus Supreme Verdict, whose most-common and high-impact prey will but rarely possess permission).

Rakdos Cackler

Speaking of unleashing the awesome? Rakdos Cackler is the poster boy Devil of unleash!

Great in Red Decks (a Jackal Pup with a different down side); great in Suicide Black (what's more suicidal than being unable to block?).

You have the initiative, they get their guys out of the way; in, In, WIN.


What awesome new tools are you hoping to unleash after this weekend's Prereleases?

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