Sadly for cards like Kheru Dreadmaw and Lens of Clarity, not all cards are created equal. But that's good news for the following five cards, because they're had a fantastic tournament here in Honolulu this weekend. Khans of Tarkir hit like a ton of bricks, and all five of the most impressive cards this weekend were from the newest set.
Of the Ascendancy cycle, this one has certainly generated the most discussion in the lead-up to this event. Once the early iterations of the Jeskai Ascendancy Combo deck hit the Internet, people have been brewing with this card in almost any format that will take it. While it was obviously quite good in older formats, people were unconvinced of its effectiveness in Standard. Team ChannelFireball along with quarterfinalist Lee Shi Tian were most definitely playing the deck, and it was suddenly a very real problem for everyone in the room.
Here's how the combo works: You get some creatures that tap for mana into play (e.g., Sylvan Caryatid), then play Jeskai Ascendency. Next, keep casting spells, allowing you to both keep drawing (and discarding) new spells, and untapping your mana creatures to cast 'em. The most popular way to do this involved Retraction Helix repeatedly bouncing things like Dragon Mantle, Astral Cornucopia, and Briber's Purse. Eventually, you can draw out your deck and add lots and lots of mana.
Lee made Top 8 with a less conventional version that features Twinflame and Nissa, Worldwaker, but how you win is really up to you. With roughly as much mana as you could ever want, and most to all of your deck in your hands, the world is your oyster. Just don't try to win with Giant Oyster. It won't work.
Since the release of Khans of Tarkir, people have discussed how deep the draft format is. You can go two-color, any available wedge color, a wedge splashing another wedge, or even the almighty greedy five-color concoction. Winner Ari Lax and his team found an amazing archetype that he put on display twice this weekend. The rules are simple—never pass a Trail of Mystery, gobble up all the lands, and grab the most morphs and the best three-color rares you can. Not only do you end up with an amazingly playable deck, but no one else at the table has the good rares, nor the mana fixing to play more than two colors.
Trail of Mystery is the lynchpin of the deck. Morph has already proven to be the defining part of Khans draft, and two is apparently the magic number when casting cards that affect morph. Trail allows the deck to fix its mana, hit the land drops every turn, and keep up with the aggressive decks in the format through creature pumping. The deck is a blast to play, and apparently, also helps you win Pro Tours.
3. Mantis Rider
A long time ago, on a plane far, far away, there was a creature called Lightning Angel. And she was good. Lightning Angel was so popular that, despite an allergy to Flametongue Kavu, she came back to the stage for an encore in Time Spiral, too. And I love you Lightning Angel, but three mana is a great deal less than four.
People immediately fell in love Mantis Rider the moment it hit play and smacked their opponents in the face. Finalist No. 8 Shaun McLaren along with quarterfinalists Yuuya Watanabe and Ondrej Strasky all made their way to the Top 8 this weekend by efficiently disposing of opponents with the flying monk. Even after the deck "transformed" into a control build, siding out creatures like Seeker of the Way or even Goblin Rabblemaster, the Mantis Rider stayed in as a pseudo burn spell. Jeskai Wins was the most popular deck in Day Two by a fair margin, and much of its success is thanks to Mantis Rider.
It was no secret that Dig Through Time looked like a good card coming into the event, but it turned out practically everyone was eager to look through the top seven cards of their library for as little as 2 or 3 mana. Jeskai Wins players like finalist No. 8 Shaun McLaren were finding whatever good stuff they needed to quickly close out their games; Jeskai Ascendency Combo players like quarterfinalist No. 16 Lee Shi Tian were searching up pieces of their combo; and Blue-Black Control players like quarterfinalist No. 5 Ivan Floch were digging up the right answers at the right time for the right mana cost. This card is so good, we wrote an entire piece about it.
Games of Magic these days involve cards being played and destroyed all the time. As long as you're not precious about cards you're pretty much already finished with, you too can Dig Through Time like the pros.
1. Siege Rhino
Sieging is believing.
When you first see Siege Rhino, your start immediately looking for a drawback. Because with stats like that, there must be one somewhere. No way do you get a 4/5 trampler for four mana without there being some kind of drawback. Well, it turns out there is a drawback on there: it's for your opponents.
Siege Rhino was the front-runner for most popular card as Khans of Tarkir was released, and that popularity has held remarkably well here this weekend. Both winner Ari Lax and semifinalist Thiago Saporito rode the Rhino to the Top 8 in their Abzan Midrange decks, and so did Mike Sigrist with his Abzan Aggro deck. It seems pretty safe to say people will be playing Siege Rhino for some time to come. Rhino, I will.
(Did you Siege what we did there?)