Khans of Tarkir has had a huge impact on virtually every Constructed format, with powerful cards slotting into any number of decks. But let me zoom in on Standard. That's the format at this weekend's Grand Prix, after all. In this piece, I will provide an overview by counting down my picks for the top 12 Standard cards in Khans of Tarkir. Many of my choices are heavily inspired by the results of Grand Prix Los Angeles, which was held last weekend.
But before starting with number 12, here are a few honorable mentions (in arbitrary order): Jeskai Ascendancy, Sandsteppe Citadel, Ashcloud Phoenix, Suspension Field, Anafenza, the Foremost, Abzan Charm, Rattleclaw Mystic, End Hostilities, Jeskai Charm, Disdainful Stroke, Sorin, Solemn Visitor, See the Unwritten, Murderous Cut, Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker, Rakshasa Deathdealer, and Crackling Doom.
Indeed, Khans of Tarkir is filled to the brim with powerful Magic cards. Now let's start with the Top 12.
Last weekend, while doing coverage at Grand Prix Los Angeles, I was going around the tables to ask people about the best way to beat Jeskai. One person answered Prognostic Sphinx. Another went with Siege Rhino. But then I came across Brad Nelson. His answer was "Hordeling Outburst, not close."
It makes sense when you think of it. Jeskai has a really hard time getting rid of the tokens because all of their burn spells go one-for-one. And even if you're playing against a non-Jeskai deck with a lot of blockers, you can use the tokens to activate the raid trigger on Wingmate Roc, to give Butcher of the Horde haste, or to convoke out Stoke the Flames. No wonder multiple players in the Top 8 of GP LA ran this red sorcery!
11. Crater's Claws
In the right deck (such as a Temur deck with Savage Knuckleblade or a R/G deck with Polukranos, World Eater) it is relatively easy to turn on ferocious. And once you have a creature with power 4 or greater on the battlefield, this X-spell is either a Shock or better than Fireball. That's incredible!
Last weekend in Los Angeles, Brian Kibler was gaining back tempo with the Shock mode all of the time, and Daniel Scheid won the tournament with the better-than-Fireball mode in the finals. This weekend, I expect Crater's Claws to leave its mark on the tournament well.
10. Dig Through Time
This is a key piece for any controlling blue deck. The late-game inevitability that it offers is not quite as unbeatable as Sphinx's Revelation, but it can come quite close once you start chaining Digs into more Digs.
Let's take a look at an example. Suppose that you're playing Jeskai and that you got to the late game, but you're pretty far behind. You have no cards in hand, you're facing lethal on the next turn, but at least you have a ton of cards in the graveyard, enough lands in play, and your opponent is at 12 life. Now watch this: You draw Dig Through Time, and find Jeskai Charm and another Dig. With that, you get two more Jeskai Charms, and suddenly---out of nowhere---your opponent is dead!
One of the key challenges in this format is the two-drop problem. There are so many incredible cards that cost three or more mana; it's hard to get an edge there. But you can get an edge with the two-drop slot. Cards like Heir of the Wilds, Rakshasa Deathdealer, and Seeker of the Way are all good on turn two and still relevant in the late-game, and that is a large part of the reason why the decks containing these cards have performed so well.
Out of the above-mentioned two-drops, Seeker of the Way is seeing the most play in Standard right now. In a deck with enough spells (which most Jeskai and Mardu decks have) it gets in for a six-point life swing, which is pretty good for a two-drop if you are in a damage race.
It has already shown its power in Legacy and Modern, and it has been called "better than Goblin Guide." Even though Standard doesn't contain as many cheap spells as those older formats do, Monastery Swiftspear is still a centerpiece of the new incarnation of Mono-Red. It's certainly a big part of why both Eric Pei and Denis Ulanov made it into the Semifinals last weekend at Grand Prix Los Angeles.
The awesome thing is that prowess has both defensive and offensive applications. On the defensive side, you can save your Swiftspear from Drown in Sorrow or Anger of the Gods by playing one or two spells in response. On the offensive side, you can even get a turn-three kill: Swiftspear on turn one, double Swiftspear on turn two, and triple Titan's Strength on turn three. Take 21; thank you for playing.
7. Wingmate Roc
Almost all white midrange deck with enough early creatures to trigger raid contain 3-4 Wingmate Roc. The card is splendid.
It matches up well against spot removal, it blocks Mantis Rider, and it dodges Elspeth. Moreover, the life gain trigger is frequently decisive in any damage race. With the popularity of Siege Rhino or Mantis Rider, many games indeed come down to a damage race, and Wingmate Roc works wonders in those kinds of games.
The cycle of fetchlands (Bloodstained Mire, Polluted Delta, Flooded Strand, Windswept Heath, and Wooded Foothills) originally appeared in Onslaught and has been powerful enough to see play in Legacy and Vintage. Although the Ravnica duals have left Standard, the fetch-lands still help build a consistent three-color mana base with enough untapped lands. Without fetch-lands, three-color decks probably wouldn't dominate Standard.
Out of the cycle of five, Windswept Heath is arguably the most important for Standard. Besides fixing mana for Abzan, which is the most popular clan, it fills your graveyard for Murderous Cut and allows you to shuffle away cards you don't want if you have Courser of Kruphix. My favorite time to do so is when you play a Temple off the top of your deck: if you see an unwanted card on top while the scry trigger still on the stack, you can shuffle it away and get a better scry. With sweet timing tricks like that, this land has a surprising amount of play to it.
There are five cards remaining and five clans in Khans of Tarkir. You might be able to guess where the Top 5 is going...
Let's start with Sidisi. As powerful as you might expect from the Khan of the Sultai clan, she does it all: She provides fuel for Murderous Cut and Whip of Erebos, offers 5 power for 4 mana, and turns turning Satyr Wayfinder into a huge value card.
Last weekend in Los Angeles, Sultai was not on many players' radar, but the few brave souls who came to battle with Sidisi (such as Eugene Hwang) actually did quite well and came very close to making the Top 8. Could Sidisi do even better here in Stockholm?
A 4/4 for three mana with three activates abilities is already nuts. What makes it even better is that Savage Knuckleblade is one of the primary enablers of the ferocious mechanic in Standard. For instance, on the turn that you hit four mana, you can play Savage Knuckleblade plus Stubborn Denial or Crater's Claws for 0, and that's a huge tempo swing.
Last weekend at Grand Prix Los Angeles, Brian Kibler went undefeated on Day 1 with his Temur Aggro deck and, even though he lost the last round for Top 8, he was smashing everyone all day with the Knuckleballer. I wouldn't be surprised if many people here in Stockholm follow his lead.
This guy is gigantic! A 5/4 flyer for four mana would already be perfectly playable, but this demon comes equipped with three amazing abilities on top of that. By munching on some excess creatures, the 5/4 can come out of nowhere and swing the game greatly in your favor.
You do need some food to appease the Butcher, but last weekend in LA, Brad Nelson showed how it's done: He played Butcher of the Horde in a deck with Hordeling Outburst and Goblin Rabblemaster and cruised to the Top 8.
2. Mantis Rider
It's already almost 10 years ago, but I still have fond memories of playing with Lightning Angel back when Time Spiral was legal in Standard. And while I will cherish those memories, three mana is a great deal less than four. Every Standard player should fear the turn-three Mantis Rider from the Jeskai deck.
The 3/3 has one ability from each of its colors, and all of them matter: flying means that you can soar over Courser and Caryatid, vigilance means that you can block aggressive red creatures while you're damage racing, and haste means that you can deal with planeswalkers like Xenagos right away. What's not to like?
I guess the only thing that Mantis Rider is missing is a 6-point lifeswing when it enters the battlefield.
1. Siege Rhino
What is a Rhino? If you ask a biologist, they might say that it is an odd-toed ungulate in the family Rhinocerotidae with a thick protective skin formed from layers of collagen positioned in a lattice structure. If you ask a Magic player, they will probably answer that it is the best card in Khans or Tarkir and the main reason why Abzan decks have performed so well.
For Abzan decks, Siege Rhino does it all. It offers a 6-point life swing, even if your opponent has a Hero's Downfall. It tramples over Elspeth tokens. And it beats up pretty much every mid-sided creature in combat. Overall, it is nearly impossible to race, so if you want to be able to win in Standard, you'd better come prepared with a plan to beat Siege Rhino.