Cards on the Cusp

Posted in Event Coverage on October 31, 2015

By Corbin Hosler

Everyone knows about some of Standard's most powerful cards. Jace, Vryn's Prodigy. Mantis Rider. Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Siege Rhino. Atarka's Command. In other words, the usual suspects.

So it's no surprise to see those having success on the first day of Grand Prix Indianapolis. But to imagine that the format begins and ends there is to miss the developments happening even as the format plays out in Indy.

Take Retreat to Emeria, for instance. On its face it's just another Retreat in the cycle, good in Battle for Zendikar Limited but underwhelming elsewhere. At least, that's what many people thought when the set was first released. The card has steadily been gathering steam in recent weeks, and many players arrived in Indiana hoping for a breakout retreat.

“It's way better than I thought it was,” Sam Pardee explained. “I played against it in the last round of Pro Tour Battle for Zendikar, and first I thought it was a joke card I would just beat when it was played against me on Turn 4. But then played a second one and a fetch land, and all of a sudden I was just going to die to it.”

Not only is Retreat to Emeria a strong card for its ability to slowly grind out advantages in a game, but it also works very well with other under-utilized cards — like Secure the Wastes — that have seen their numbers rise in the past two weeks. While the top level of powerful cards in Standard is fairly flat, there's not a huge drop-off to the next tier, and players who find a way to leverage those cards are just as likely to succeed, Pardee said.

“Right now the stock lists are just the most efficient cards with a good mana base, but you can find success with others if you have a good list,” he said.

That would explain why multiple players registered Wasteland Strangler for the tournament. An efficient three-drop but one that requires support, the Eldrazi has largely lingered on the sideline so far this season. But it's been working its way into more and more lists and is another card right on the fringe of breaking out in Standard.

“We tested a lot of decks that had it,” Pardee explained. “The idea was to use Silkwrap on the second turn to get their Jace, and then process the Jace on the third turn with Strangler to kill their Mantis Rider. We ultimately decided not to play it, but I don't can't blame anyone who is.”

“Also people delve in this format, and help you that way,” Nathan Holiday agreed. “I wouldn't be surprised to see it be part of a winning deck.”

Perhaps no card better demonstrates a leap in value than Knight of the White Orchid. After all, there isn't much more value than getting a free land along with a 2/2 first-striking knight. But despite its pedigree the card hasn't seen much play since being printed in Magic Origins. But with the advent of Battle for Zendikar lands, the utility offered by the knight has gone up significantly, and more and more players have begun to include it in their decks. Fifteenth-ranked Brad Nelson called it the best “catch-up” card in his Bant Megamorph deck this weekend, and it's gone from an afterthought to an all-star across the ever-evolving Standard format. It's a leap that has spawned new decks and brought new life to others, and like Retreat to Emeria and Wasteland Strangler, it languished on the edge of Standard for weeks before making an impact.

A walk through the top tables of Grand Prix Indianapolis illustrates that those cards are far from alone. Oblivion Sower, Void Winnower, Blight Herder, Gilt-Leaf Winnower are just a sampling of the cards one good weekend away from a breakout in Standard.

No one is more aware of this than four-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Josh McClain. That's why his deck for the weekend features not just a recently successful archetype in Eldrazi Ramp, but a new take on it as well.

“I'm playing Green-White Ramp this weekend,” he explained. “I think the red in the deck wasn't that good but the white lets you get Arashin Cleric and Surge of Righteousness, which helps your aggressive matchups as well as your Dark Jeskai match. And Nissa's Renewal has been great.”

That's right, Nissa's Renewal has been spotted in Standard, and McClain was high on the card's importance in the deck.

Josh McClain wasn't afraid to innovate, and he was still playing late in Day 1 hoping to translate it into a deep run.

“It sets you up to cast Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger on the next turn, and the 7 life is actually really relevant against the aggressive decks and Jeskai,” McClain said. “The red decks are the worst matchup, but they haven't been quite as popular so I think this deck is actually really well-positioned right now.”

That sums up what players are looking for in Standard right now. While the expected field is known, there seems to be plenty of room for players to experiment and innovate, and — as the emergence of several new archetypes reveals — ultimately be rewarded for their boldness.

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