Comeback Cards Find their Place

Posted in PRO TOUR MAGIC ORIGINS on August 1, 2015

By Josh Bennett

New cards may get all the hype, but the shakeup of Standard Constructed doesn't stop with the cards in Magic Origins. New decks bring with them a new metagame, an opportunity for cards that have fallen out of favor to become relevant again. It can also mean a home for cards that haven't yet found their place. Here's a look at four cards that are back in force this weekend.

Pro Tour Born of the Gods semifinalist Patrick Dickmann showed up this weekend with a Jeskai list boasting the full four copies of a forgotten beater: Mantis Rider. Despite a cruel run of variance that had his back against the wall by Round 5, he was happy to answer my questions on the state of Standard, and in particular why Mantis Rider had come back into his version of Jeskai.

"With nobody playing Abzan Aggro, Jeskai is in a very good place in the metagame and Mantis Rider with it," Dickmann explained. "There's a lot of Green-red Devotion, and they can't beat it. Against Mono-Red it's a threat that attacks and defends. Abzan Megamorph doesn't play much removal, so it's good against them. And against Abzan Control, you have access to an endgame they can't beat."

Next on my list was Dragonlord Ojutai. After Pro Tour Dragons of Tarkir, Esper Dragons was the consensus deck to beat. Unfortunately for the Great Teacher, that's exactly what people did. Once the Abzan Megamorph deck appeared on the scene, Ojutai was nowhere to be found. So I was surprised to find Ondřej Stráský, riding high on two Pro Tour Top 8s this season, with the full playset in his Constructed deck. It was a bit of a struggle getting him to explain why they were a good choice this weekend. He seemed content to smile, shrug, and laugh at my questions. Eventually I wore him down.

"It's not that Esper Dragons is a good deck again, it's always been a good deck," he said. "I don't understand why people stopped playing it. Yes, the Abzan deck was advantaged against it, but that was about it, and now with Rally the Ancestors decks beating up on Abzan, Esper Dragons is a good choice."

I asked him about the Rally matchup, and he said that it felt pretty even. His biggest worry was that he hadn't anticipated how much red would be played this weekend.

Of course, the two biggest comeback cards are those that have spawned the weekend's most exciting archetypes. All eyes have been on Rally the Ancestors since it made a big splash last weekend at the Standard Open. When I found out that a version of the deck was being piloted by none other than the Patron Saint of Combo, Hall of Famer Zvi Mowshowitz, I knew I had my source for all things Rally. Mowshowitz tested with the NYC squad, whose roster includes names like Gerard Fabiano, Gaudenis Vidugiris, Andrew "The Boz" Boswell, and Hall of Famer Alan Comer. I was barely halfway through my first question (Was it the reprinting of Nantuko Husk [that makes the Rally deck a contender]?) when Mowshowitz's mile-a-minute brain took over the interview and I was barraged with information.

"It would be wrong to say that you wouldn't have a deck without Husk, but only because it's true of a lot of cards in it," he explained. "You wouldn't have a deck without Grim Haruspex, or Collected Company, or well, obviously Rally the Ancestors. The deck is this assembly of synergistic pieces, and it's so much more than the sum of its parts."

I managed to cut in here and ask about the deck's ability to function in games where it doesn't combo-kill the opponent with Rally the Ancestors bringing back enough creatures to create a lethal Nantuko Husk attack, with the help of Mogis's Marauder.

"There's some of that. Even without the combo kill you get to play Magic. It's not very good Magic, but you at least get to play. And you know, people's decks don't work every single game, so even not very good Magic is enough to take those games. Other games you get kind of a snowball effect, the things you do aren't impressive, but your advantage builds and builds. And then of course there are the times you just combo them and they die."

He paused to consider something here, which for him meant a break in his monologue no longer than the pause most people have between their sentences. "I think Modern Splinter Twin is a very apt metaphor. A lot of your games you'll have the ability to combo, but you simply don't pull the trigger. You say 'okay, what are the things I need to play around here' and you always have the combo in your back pocket."

Last but certainly not least is the centerpiece card of the breakout deck of the tournament: Blue-Red Ensoul Artifact. After seeing it in action in the hands of Luis Scott-Vargas, I thought it looked like gangbusters. He directed me to the man who brought the deck to Team ChannelFireball / Face-to-Face Games: Josh McClain.

"It's true, I did actually first build the deck away from the team and tested it on my own make sure I had something real," he explained. "I knew the team would be skeptical and I don't blame them. I mean, just look at it. Chief of the Foundry?"

I asked him what had changed to make Ensoul Artifact viable.

"Before Magic Origins, you could build a version of this deck and its explosive draws would be just as good. The problem was the rest of your draws. You were playing so many bad cards to make the best draws work out that a lot of your games were just embarrassing. Now that you have Hangarback Walker and Whirler Rogue, you're at least still in the game if you don't nut-draw someone. It was all about the deck having this critical mass of, well not good cards, but cards that are good enough."

I asked him if the metagame was matching his team's expectations.

"Definitely. Our win percentage has been something absurd. I think Round 4 all but one of us won our matches. The deck just does things that are very hard for decks to answer. Ensoul Artifact on Ornithopter is just game over against Devotion. It's fast enough to keep up with Red and outlast them, especially with Ensoul on Darksteel Citadel. Even Abzan has trouble with that. They need Abzan Charm, and that's it. Decks that could clog the board to stabilize, you punch through thanks to Whirler Rogue."

Certainly the Day Two field looks rife with Scissors. And apparently everyone else showed up with paper.