The Top Ten Best Shamans in Standard

Posted in Feature on March 27, 2008

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."

Before we get to the Top Ten Best Shamans in Standard, let's quickly visit the penultimate (antepenultimate?) Top 8 tally for the 2008 Extended PTQ season:

Domain Zoo
Black-Green-White The Rock
Enduring Ideal
Mono-Red Burn
Flow Rock
Previous Level

There isn't much (new) to see here. Dredge was far and away the best deck of the week, and probably the best deck of the entire season from the first real week of PTQs. This time around Narcomoeba (this writer's current pick for the single most "broken" card in all the current Extended card pool, by the way) and the various cards that actually had the word "dredge" printed on them scored twice as many PTQ wins as the next best (and, this week, only other) qualifying deck, Domain Zoo; plus, in a week where many popular (or at least on-again / off-again popular) decks showed with only one Top 8 appearance, Dredge led all decks with more than 20% of the available Top 8 spots.

Winning the first game eighty percent of the time really seems to be showing for something!

On another not-so-small note, we have been running this same format for PTQ Top 8 breakdown tallies for so long that I have kind of assumed (probably wrongly) that everyone out there "gets it" ... which is in all likelihood horribly unfair to new readers. As a quick explanation, in PTQs, the most important person that day is the guy who actually walks away with the mythical blue envelope, that symbol representing an invitation to the Pro Tour; the deck that qualifies in such a tournament is depicted by a blue box (see the above chart); the balance of decks appearing in Top 8s—whether peripheral quarterfinalists or narrowly missing bad beat victims fallen in the final two—are represented by white boxes. The best decks—the unambiguous victors in PTQs—are thusly set aside by blue boxes; the assumption (wrong or right) is that most of the rest of the Top 8s rise in proportion to their respective populations in the Swiss rounds. As such, we study Top 8 archetype breakdowns, big winners and in total both, in order to better prepare for next week.

Got it?

Great! There is still a week to go.

The Top Ten Best Shamans in Standard

But wait! Before we begin the list proper, a word of apology...

Sorry, Nameless Inversion. You are probably a better card than, say, eight of the ten cards on this list, but even though you are technically a Shaman (just like you are technically a Unicorn, Eye, and Wall) you are not a creature, and I wanted to focus only with those carrying power and toughness, rather than those removing power and toughness!

Don't worry, you'll doubtlessly continue to unseat Elf Eyeblight's Ending in Elves and go high if not first-pick in booster draft. Collect your Honorable Mention by the door.

Okay! Now for the actual Top Ten Best Shamans in Standard:

Leaf-Crowned Elder
10. Leaf-Crowned Elder

There was a time when Erhnam Djinn was one of the best creatures in Standard—and all of tournament Magic in fact—just for its 4/5 power and toughness at four mana... and Erhnam Djinn had a drawback rather than a stack of useful ability text!

Leaf-Crowned Elder is a power shy of Erhnam Djinn, but rather than a bad evasion clause, this Shaman carries a tremendous Tinker-like kinship ability that not only allows you to "draw" an extra card per turn... it actually plays that card for you, gratis!

Think about it: Free Dauntless Dourbark! Free Verdeloth the Ancient!

Leaf-Crowned Elder has been a little slow on the adoption rate because the relevant format when Morningtide hit tournament legality was (actually "is") the super-fast turn-four clock of Extended, but I am pretty sure this one will end up being a significant threat in Standard.

Masked Admirers
9. Masked Admirers

Masked Admirers found its way into three decks in the Top 8 of last year's World Championships, so it has some recent, and actual, pedigree, which is why I am listing it ahead of Leaf-Crowned Elder despite the Elder's flashier potential upside.

In addition to qualifying for this week's theme, Masked Admirers is an Elf, and can therefore cash in the automatic bonuses for Gilt-Leaf Palace, Imperious Perfect, and so on. While it doesn't break any of Tarmogoyf's records for power and toughness versus mana cost, the relentless angle for card advantage that this card represents is fairly unique for Standard. In Extended, you come in assuming you will need Tormod's Crypt to be able to compete, but in Standard... not so much. Many midrange decks will fail against the Masked Admirers' ability to fight and fight again as other creatures enter the fray turn after turn.

Plus, it draws a card the turn it comes into play! That card advantage on the front side might actually be the most compelling part of the equation. A 3/2 for four mana, Masked Admirers is close to being strictly better than Striped Bears (and strict or no, it's definitely just "better"), a card that—believe it or not—Mike Turian used to make Top 8 of a Constructed Grand Prix (even without the recursion clause, which, let's face it, is huge)!

Thelonite Hermit
8. Thelonite Hermit

The mighty morphin' re-imagining of classic finisher Deranged Hermit, Thelonite Hermit has already knocked around some doubles and triples in both Standard and Time Spiral Block Constructed Grand Prix.

Solid on its own, Thelonite Hermit is a powerful redundant complement to Vesuvan Shapeshifter (especially when Brine Elemental is nowhere nearby); the synergies between these two morph creatures can get out of hand quickly. Thelonite Hermit generates threat—if not cardboard—advantage on its own, but Vesuvan Shapeshifter makes sure there is always gas in the tank. Together, in play, the pair of them in concert will make Hill Giants by the four where mere 1/1 saps may have been expected... Be careful with your blocks! In addition to being a 2/2 or even 3/3 factory, Thelonite Hermit just might increase the power and toughness of some of the other Shamans on this very list.

7. Riftsweeper

While Riftsweeper has fallen out of favor recently, don't forget that this one was an absolute monster for a stretch last summer, one of the few answers pure beatdown had against Dragonstorm (the classic blue version, here), a main-deck quantity in the second best Time Spiral Block Constructed deck (though not a particularly effective tool against Number One), not to mention (once again) a sideboard bomb come the World Championships. Poor Patrick Chapin had everything from Rift Bolt to Lotus Bloom gobbled up in the finals. In fact, many a Knoll Dragonstorm player will tell you that Riftsweeper is the only thing that will save a black-green disruption deck from the scripted sideboard response to Thoughtsieze—Wheel of Fate.

Don't forget that it took about eighteen months for Ancestral Vision to "tip" in Constructed; despite being a predicted Tier One card (or the modern, non-Tarmogoyf, equivalent nowadays) coming out of Renton, besides a little play in Time Spiral Block Pickles, that sorcery didn't see big format play until Previous Level Blue, and then only recently. Should Ancestral Vision find a foothold in Standard, Riftsweeper will be there... Just another victim for this slayer of the Suspended.

Last but not least, Riftsweeper is a solid if not particularly earth shattering offensive two drop. He can rumble with other two-drops, and some-three drops, and some four-drops (including three-drops and four-drops on this very Top 10 list!), clocking the other guy while messing up his day.

Viridian Shaman
6. Viridian Shaman

While Viridian Shaman is maybe not at the height of its powers in Standard today it has such a long and storied pedigree in both Standard and other formats that positioning it any lower would be just plain disrespectful. A repeating rifle shot in Elf and Nail (alongside Wirewood Symbiote) when Affinity was the best deck in Standard, Viridian Shaman has smashed every kind of target from a lowly Ancient Den to the rare target of a sloppily positioned Mindslaver. Viridian Shaman was so good during its eligibility for Mirrodin Block Constructed that Affinity itself sideboarded Tree of Tales just so it could brag about the Viridian Shamans played via that funnest of fun one-mana artifacts, Aether Vial.

Mirror Entity
5. Mirror Entity

Halfway down this Top 10 list we finally hit a Shaman that isn't a proper Shaman at all! Mirror Entity is a changeling (and therefore, maybe a little confusingly, more than a Shaman despite not having the word printed anywhere on its physical cardboard).

More than a high draft pick, Mirror Entity has a poly effect that can allow for an essentially infinite number of activations requiring zero operating mana. Unbinding mana on even unimpressive effects (all my guys get to be 0/0 creatures... why would I want that?) can have potentially abusive consequences... To wit, Mirror Entity has become the go-to Shaman for the Reveillark / Body Double combo deck in Standard, allowing a nicely set up duelist to draw his deck, return all his opponent's permanents to hand, whatever, while increasing the spread between winner and loser on the numbers.

Oh yeah, you can always just pump it large in order to kill your paralyzed opponent in one big attack.

Troll Ascetic
4. Troll Ascetic

I've actually always thought Troll Ascetic a bit overrated (kind of a bad blocker the turn you play it, usually), but it's hard to argue with the raw efficiency of this Shaman. It is basically a 3/2 tank once online, hard to kill and almost impossible to hit. Sure, it's too little to matter in a fight against four drops, often gets caught looking up in the sky as an armada of Illusions soar through the red zone overhead, and is embarrassingly slow in battle with broken combo decks... but when Troll Ascetic matters, really matters, it's hard to imagine a more effective creature at doing exactly what it does that makes it matter in this particular instance (attacking through fragile and ostensibly more valuable creatures, holding off Psychatogs, refusing to die while it clocks seven turns in a row, whatever).

In the history of Magic, there have been few better combat creatures specifically designed to wear Cloaks and carry Umezawa's Jittes. In modern Standard, the accoutrement has evolved to the Loxodon Warhammer... Troll Ascetic is an offensive monster with a hammer in hand (check out Michael Jacobs's Blink-killing Top 8 deck from last year's U.S. National Championship for this combination in action). This three-drop's fans should keep him in deck lists, competitive ones, for as long as he is legal in Standard.

Wolf-Skull Shaman
3. Wolf-Skull Shaman

We've said a couple of times that tournament Magic has historically been a game of awesome two-drops. You can look back at eras and see how this is true. We have had ages of Wild Mongrels, formats dominated by Nantuko Shades, long seasons quashed beneath the fluttering faerie wings of Arcbound Ravagers, and now a stack of formats defined by possibly the greatest two drop of them all, the ironically green Tarmogoyf.

Two-drops smash our enemies, but they also defend us from the evils of dirty combo decks (thanks, Meddling Mage and Gaddock Teeg!); they tear holes in Counterspell walls like Blurred Mongoose and accelerate us while attacking for the customary 2 (as with Thornscape Familiar). With Wolf-Skull Shaman, we welcome yet another solid two-drop with the right body and an ability that can either benefit from random synergistic value (say in an otherwise unaligned Elf deck) or as part of a focused tribal kinship theme.

One of the most exciting Shamans to come out of Morningtide, Wolf-Skull Shaman is a lot like the mighty Leaf-Crowned Elder... only half the mana cost. Besides just being easier to play and likely in the red zone come turn three, subtly, Wolf-Skull Shaman also has the opportunity to get his kinship on two turns more quickly than the ponderous Elder. We have seen this creature in action already in the Top 8 of a Standard Grand Prix (paired, unsurprisingly, with Elves) but Wolf-Skull Shaman will interact just as cunningly with changelings or other Shamans.

The little armies he can build from turn three seem perfect companions to it girl planeswalker, the color appropriate Garruk Wildspeaker.

Doran, the Siege Tower
2. Doran, the Siege Tower

The only surprise about this creature in this Top 10 list is probably that he didn't come in #1.

Doran has been the centerpiece of one of the most popular decks of the recent PTQ season, one of the few creatures that can actually make a Tarmogoyf even better, plus the bane of all Affinity players (sorry Cranial Plating, better luck next time Fatal Frenzy). If that weren't enough, Doran excited a whole new wing of black-green midrange attack decks in Standard, culminating in the game's highest honor, the World Championship itself.

The modern era's answer to Phyrexian Negator, what Doran lacks in a Dark Ritual, he makes up for with a Murmuring Bosk and a complete lack of drawback. What can I say? The Siege Tower is so awesome he makes Tireless Tribe awesome (not that that has anything to do with Standard)! The only thing holding him back is...

Chameleon Colossus
1. Chameleon Colossus

Is it cheating to name a changeling the format's finest Shaman?

Chameleon Colossus does everything a regular Shaman does in terms of hooking up little buddy Wolf-Skull Shaman and four-drop peer Leaf-Crowned Elder... but plays the breaker in so many other ways. How many fiery four-drops can laugh off a haymaker from Doran himself? Which ones dodge removal for no incremental mana... but accomplish so much when mana is plentiful?

Double strike has always been a dodgy ability from the R&D perspective—too much potential upside, a little scary therefore—and here is Chameleon Colossus with a poly faux double strike paragraph all over his rules text! Earlier we talked about carrying a Loxodon Warhammer... What do you think about this man dragging along such a maul?

Get ready for another in-format face-melting three-mana piece of equipment... In addition to being a Spirit, Elf, Goblin, and Dragon, Chameleon Colossus is also a Warrior. The curve is actually perfect. Turn-one Boreal Druid, turn-two Obsidian Battle-Axe, turn-three Chameleon Colossus (and in the red zone for 6), turn four brings twice that much.

Just awesome. Even bigger.

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