Top 5 Top 5s from Dragons of Tarkir
By Neil T Stacey
The internet as we know it is built on one principle; everybody loves lists. This is particularly true at certain times of year, like around New Year’s Eve and in the leadup to the Oscars. New set releases are goldmines for lists and prompt an inevitable deluge of the things. This week I’m going deeper with a Top 5 list of Top 5 lists.
Namely, I have my top 5 picks for Standard play right now, my top 5 picks based on general power level, my top 5 picks for Eternal formats, my personal top 5 cards I’m excited to play with and of course, my top 5 picks for overhyped cards.
Top 5 cards for Standard right now
Sometimes a very good card just doesn’t fit into any decks that are actually good. With six sets already in the format, Standard is well-developed enough that if a new card doesn’t fit into an existing deck then it will struggle to find a home. As a result, the cards that will make an immediate impact are not necessarily the most powerful cards on their own merit.
Two toughness is a lot more than one in a format overrun with dinky 1/1s like Satyr Wayfinder and Hordeling Outburst tokens. Zurgo might be dragon-whipped in the new timeline but he’s a lot more playable than his helmsmashing counterpart. Control decks have gained a lot of tools in this set and I expect them to be popular in the new format. Playing a mono-red strategy to punish slow decks is a good strategy at the outset of a new format. If control decks are as popular as I suspect, mono-red will be a superb week 1 choice in this format and Zurgo might well be the best red 1-drop in Standard right now.
If you’re really worried about the Legend rule then play 3 instead of 4. Additional copies do have diminishing returns so it might be that the 4th copy of Zurgo is worse than a copy of something else.
Roast finally gives Red an efficient way of killing Siege Rhino. It also knocks off Courser and most other relevant threats. Not being able to hit fliers is quite limiting and RW remains light on answers to Stormbreath Dragon. There are also a few six toughness fatties wandering around and the new Sidisi will be joining that list. That said, cheap removal only comes in ‘conditional’ these days, and Roast matches up well enough against the format to be a Standard staple.
This isn’t quite Preordain, but cheap card-selection isn’t something that Wizards have been giving us. It remains to be seen whether decks like Jeskai Aggro really want to be spending two mana on card selection but it is a soft spot in their mana curve so it’s not out of the question. Where this will really make an impact is in control decks, which have been totally starved of this kind of effect. This smooths your draws, digs for the cards you need and even feeds delve for Dig Through Time. It’s an automatic staple in UB control and dramatically improves the prospects for the deck. Jeskai Ascendancy combo decks also want this and it might give them the improved consistency that they need.
This is a pretty powerful card in general and it fits nicely into the current Standard environment. It’s particularly well-suited to stomping all over the RW decks infesting the format; “Nice Outpost Siege, bro. Be a shame if you had to…sacrifice it. Oh and my Courser would like to fight your Rabblemaster if you don’t mind.”
Getting card advantage while also impacting the board in a meaningful way blows a game wide open. This card has the ability to win games out of nowhere and that’s a pretty good deal for two mana (understatement). I like this card paired with Fleecemane Lion to bring the fight mode online early. Adding a +1+1 counter and swatting down a Mantis Rider is no joke. Having access to maindeck-able enchantment destruction will also help a lot of decks fight off the Mastery of the Unseen decks that have popped up lately.
Biggest downside? It is close to useless against UB Control. Considering my #3 pick and (spoilers) my #1 pick, I expect UB control to be a real frontrunner in the format, so this card does have its liabilities.
A set with a Dragon theme is released, and my pick for the most impactful card is an uncommon removal spell. I feel like the fun police here, especially since Ultimate Price is a reprint that was last seen teaming up with the despised Pack Rat.
Still, Ultimate Price is exactly the tool that Black decks need. Black has had a bit of a shortage of cheap removal, leaning heavily on the inefficient Hero’s Downfall and the conditional Bile Blight, both of which carry a steep colour commitment. Ultimate Price provides cheap, flexible removal and shores up a critical weakness of Abzan and Blue/Black Control. It gives Abzan another answer to Stormbreath Dragon, which has always been a tricky one to handle.
One drawback is that it doesn’t kill Siege Rhino or any of the other obnoxiously powerful 3-colour creatures from Khans. This means that you probably don’t want to mainboard a full 4 copies; instead you want to use it to tune your mix of removal to suit your metagame. This card will get a bit worse when Theros block rotates out and takes most of the good mono-colour targets with it.
Top 5 cards on their own merit
When we talk about a card’s power level in a general sense, we typically refer to how strong we intuitively expect it to be in some unknown Standard format. It’s a subjective way of looking at things, since we all have a different set of experiences that we relate the cards to. However, with the new rotation schedule there will come a point at which Dragons of Tarkir will be the only one of the current sets that will remain in Standard.
There will eventually be a Standard format where the only currently known cards are from Dragons of Tarkir. Think of this list as being my best guess for how good these cards will be when that format rolls around.
Five damage is a little outside of red’s normal range. Combust does it at instant speed but it’s a bit more restrictive. Roast isn’t quite Doom Blade, but it’s a new high water mark for red kill spells.
Getting a mana discount is always a big deal in Magic, and this 4-mana instant can get you as much as 6-mana worth of stuff. Card advantage is thrown into the deal, getting you two creatures off of one card. Getting creatures at instant speed is another big deal; it plays around sweepers nicely and lets you get tricky in combat. The potential of this card is extremely high.
In practice, however, there are a few hiccups. Firstly, the one- and two-drops in Standard aren’t great right now and the odds of hitting two 3-drops are very slim. The Magical Christmasland scenario of getting a pair of three-drops will come up very rarely; when you get less value than that, this will be unspectacular. More often that not, you’d be better served spending your four mana on a Siege Rhino. I’m not sure this will work that well in Standard right now.
That said, we’re going back to Zendikar in October. There are elves on Zendikar. And Allies. Collected Company is a card to watch.
Getting ahead on cards typically requires an investment of time and/or mana. Divination puts you ahead by one card, but it generally requires taking a whole turn off. Mind Rot is much the same. Three mana seems to be the default cost for getting ahead by one card. The above examples are pretty reliable at getting you that card advantage, but they don’t affect the board. In general, card advantage plays that also affect the board come with strings attached.
Reclamation Sage puts you up by one card, but only if your opponent has a valid target, and a 2/1 body is a lousy deal for three mana. Lifebane Zombie was a better deal; three mana for an evasive 3/1 that lets you see your opponent’s hand is a good deal as is; getting rid of a creature is just gravy. I wanted to say sweet, sweet gravy but that sounds gross.
Dromoka’s Command is in much the same mould as those two examples, except that it costs two mana rather than three. When it works out for you it’ll be incredibly efficient purely in terms of its effect on the board, while also getting card advantage. Getting full value will be pretty conditional but generally, at least one of the modes will be relevant.
4/6 with Deathtouch makes for a very real road-block, swatting down Rabblemasters and Rhinos alike. Getting Diabolic Tutor attached makes this an excellent card to catch up with when you’re behind on the board, giving you a solid board presence along with whatever you happen to need.
Sacrificing a creature is a bit of a hoop to jump through, however. In the worst situations, you’ll often find yourself having to choose between tutoring and just playing this is a creature. Fortunately, neither of those are terrible options. If you happen to build around the exploit mechanic this can generate absurd value. I love how with this card you can use Chord of Calling as an instant speed tutor for anything.
The bad news is, the five-drop slot is incredibly competitive right now and it remains to be seen if Sidisi can actually make the cut ahead of the established competition. Whisperwood Elemental in particular is difficult to dislodge. It too generates great value, but without the hoops to jump through to get it working.
It’s obnoxiously easy to get value from this guy; even if he runs into Hero’s Downfall you’re left with either a 4/4 dragon or an extra card. Sarkhan provides board dominance, card advantage and mana ramp all in one neat package. When you’re in front he can close out a game in short order with his Broodmate Dragon impersonation. He’s very capable of catching you up from behind, creating an immediate board presence along with a source of incremental advantage.
Despite all that, I don’t think that Sarkhan has an immediate home in Standard. Temur decks have slipped away of late so there isn’t a prominent archetype that he goes straight into. Beyond that, Sarkhan isn’t a great fit in the Temur Aggro decks of a few months ago; he takes longer to get in for damage than Stormbreath Dragon or his own previous incarnation, both of which have haste. I would very likely still run him over them on the basis of pure card quality but the slight dissonance with the deck’s plan would mean that he isn’t as significant an upgrade as might otherwise be the case.
Top 5 prospects for Eternal formats
According to WOTC, Modern is technically a “non-rotating constructed format” rather than an Eternal one, but I’ll include it here because the aforementioned distinction is silly. Not to mention, this set doesn’t jump out at me as being a treasure trove of Legacy or Vintage staples, so I wouldn’t have much to talk about if I left Modern out. If I’m honest, I’m no expert on Legacy and I know next to nothing about Vintage so if it’s not good in Modern it probably won’t be on this list.
Considering the card pool for Modern, it’s not reasonable to expect each and every set to contribute five playable cards to the format. So yeah, this is a stretch. Four-drops generally need to do something immediately to be playable in Modern, and Narset has no immediate effect on the board. In fact, she generally won’t have any impact on the board even the turn after you play her, because it takes an additional turn for rebound to have an effect.
However, the card advantage she generates once she is online is unbelievable, and there are enough matchups where she’ll shine that I can imagine her in sideboards of RWU control and similar decks. If I’m really honest I think this card is pretty mediocre and massively overhyped. I just love the idea of rebounding a Time Warp. It’s hard to imagine losing after that.
This one is also a little bit of a stretch in terms of card quality. However, it can replace Melira to combos with Persist creatures and does a little bit more for you when you aren’t comboing.
A lot has been made of the two-card combo where you use Congregation at Dawn to line up Viscera Seer, Melira and Murderous Redcap (or Kitchen Finks). You then draw the Seer while Collected Company spits out the other two and as soon as you cast the Seer, you have an infinite loop at your disposal. It’s neat and it’s quite powerful but the combo pieces aren’t amazing on their own. Congregation at Dawn is strict card disadvantage and doesn’t see much play. Collected Company on the other hand has the potential to be very powerful, running enough creatures to maximize its value would mean trimming the deck’s interactive spells down below what I’d normally feel comfortable with in a combo deck that only wins on turn 4 or 5. I can’t see that deck being a Tier One contender in Modern.
That said, there are some fringe decks that can make use of Collected Company. This makes a nice curve topper in any deck with sufficient creature density. Elves springs to mind, but there are other possibilities. Goblin decks could easily splash green and run a copy or two of this, playing a similar role to Goblin Ringleader in Legacy.
Combust just got cheaper. Sure, it doesn’t kill Siege Rhino but that isn’t the #1 job of Combust. We’re interested in stopping Splinter Twin combo and keeping one mana open instead of two makes a huge difference to how those games play out.
Twin decks often win without ever actually pulling the trigger on the combo; instead they get ahead on tempo by getting to use all their mana while you set two of your lands aside just in case. Playing this over Combust will just let you do more stuff per turn which in turn will let you win more games.
This seems like an easy fit for Modern Burn. It plays the Skullcrack role quite nicely, and has some other added utility. Putting the extra land into play isn’t going to be as relevant as it seems on first glance, since this is a deck that isn’t interested in making more than three land drops. Sure, you get that third land down a turn sooner but you’re spending two mana for three damage while you’re doing it. Same net result as a Lava Spike, unless you make your fourth land drop the next turn.
The really interesting alternate mode is the one that pumps all your creatures. If it buys you 1 extra damage, then this card is doing four damage for you, which is excellent. If you have more than one creature down, this becomes incredibly efficient. It can also save a Swiftspear from Lightning Bolt which will come up
Top 5 cards I am excited to play with, but aren’t necessarily good
Deckbuilding is my favourite part of Magic and every new set brings with it a ton of possible new synergies to explore. I’m well aware that most deck ideas don’t pan out and I don’t claim otherwise for my own brews, so don’t take this list as being reflective of cards that are necessarily likely to feature at the top tables. They’re just cards that have caught my eye for their potential in interesting decks.
Then again, Standard has been a wide-open format of late and nothing should be dismissed out of hand.
So far this card has gone mostly under the radar and it might quietly be one of the best of the Command cycle. Instant speed discard is unusual and keeps its relevance into the late-game, when most discard spells become irrelevant. Its other modes include one that kills Rabblemaster which is obviously a big deal. It also has Raise Dead which is one of those highly situational effects that really shine on a modal spell. Destroying artifacts isn’t something that comes up that often, but you’ll occasionally get to hit a Whip of Erebos with it.
#4 Artful Maneuvre
Rebound works incredibly well with Heroic and with Prowess, and I have to applaud Wizards for meshing their mechanics so well. I’m disappointed that Distortion Strike wasn’t reprinted but it is a real possibility that it would have been too good in U/W Heroic.
Artful Manoeuvre isn’t much of a match for Distortion Strike but I am still excited to point it at Akroan Crusader and try extract four damage and a pair of hasty attackers from a single two-mana spell, albeit over the course of two turns.
Young Pyromancer is one of my favourite cards of all time, because I love being rewarded for playing spells I wanted to play anyway. Myth Realised does that, but triggers off of a wider range of spells. You can even trigger it by playing a second copy, so it works well in multiples. I’m sure there are turn 3 kills in Modern that involve two or three of these and a gripful of Gitaxian Probes.
It’s also a handy mana sink and it plays incredibly well with sweepers.
Of course, this card is good and we’ll be seeing it in many of the format’s best decks. Besides that, it offers a reason to try Green in Heroic decks. It can target multiple of your own creatures by using the fight mode and the pump mode, so it fits right into the linear game plan of Heroic. It also saves creatures from burn spells and offers removal to a deck that lacks it. Green also brings things like Setessan Tactics and Become Immense. I reckon it’s worth a look.
Picture this sequence: you have some creature on the board. Let’s say it’s a Hornet Queen, for argument’s sake. You play Sidisi, exploiting the Queen to fetch… Rescue from the Underworld. Next turn, you play the Rescue, sending Sidisi in to fetch out the Queen. They both enter the battlefield, getting their triggers. You exploit the Hornet Queen to fetch…Rescue From the Underworld. You can repeat this until you run out Rescues, letting Sidisi eat the same creature five times in total and repeating an etb each time. At the end of the chain you still get the Diabolic Tutor effect. It might be pushing it to jam a full set of Rescue into a deck, but if a deck is full of value creatures it’s not a stretch to run a copy or two, particularly if some of those value creatures happen to be Satyr Wayfinder.
With the addition of Ultimate Price and Duress, Black decks have more tools to stay alive while it durdles with janky plays like this
Top 5 Overhyped cards
A big part of being a Magic player is complaining about stuff. Often, it’s the biggest part of being a Magic player and that’s why we can’t have nice things. When a new set comes out, we get several golden opportunities for complaints. “How broken is this card, what were WOTC thinking?” “How terrible is this card, what were WOTC thinking?” “What’s up with the new Tormenting Voice artwork, it looks more like a Disprin Ad than a Magic card,” and so on and so forth.
Sometimes we need to remember that Wizards of the Coast have laboured tirelessly to give us an amazing game that we all love. Instead of attacking their every effort, from time to time we should redirect our attention to tearing down one another’s opinions. In that spirit, I present my top 5 overhyped cards from Dragons of Tarkir
This is a reasonable finisher in control; it gives card draw when it goes on the offensive and it has hexproof some of the time. However, four toughness makes it a fragile blocker and there is a huge difference between hexproof sometimes and hexproof all the time. I just don’t think this is quite good enough.
I don’t have much to say here. When I saw people talking this up as a prospect in Constructed I was just confused.
Myth Realised was also on my list of cards I’m excited to play with and that’s because I have learned to mistrust my instincts when it comes to evaluating certain kinds of cards. You have to do a ton of work to make this powerful, and it’s a dreadful top-deck in the late game. I honestly don’t think there’s a home for it in Standard, particularly with Dromoka’s Command adding to the amount of enchantment removal floating around in the format.
I don’t dispute that this is a great card for Modern burn; what I question is whether you can reliably squeeze an actual card’s worth of value from it in Standard. All of its modes represent card disadvantage in most circumstances. This looks to me like one of those trap cards which have an effect that feels powerful when you cast it, but leave you wondering why you lost the game a few turns later.
This card is pre-ordering for $50 at StarcityGames and frankly, everyone taking them up on those offers is seeing something that I’m not. Sure, it’s an amazing card advantage engine. If your deck is of the right composition, the +1 ability will get you a card more often than not. And yes, Rebounding a Dig Through Time will more or less give you all of the cards you want for the rest of the game. So what am I complaining about?
My main complaint is that Narset is glacially slow at affecting the board. Unless you have a ton of mana open, you won’t be able to use the rebound effect the turn that you cast her, so you’ll be left waiting a turn before going for the -2. And then, she only affects the board if you happen to have a relevant instant or sorcery which is also relevant on the rebound. So let’s look at the timeline if you cast her on curve. Turn 4: no effect on the board; Turn 5: no effect on the board; Turn 6: maybe some effect on the board.
Goblin Rabblemaster kills you twice and grabs a snack in that timeframe. Control decks generally have to play some number of spells without board impact in order to get in front on cards and Narset fits into that category. In the long term, she does draw you more cards than a Divination or a Jace’s Ingenuity. However, both of those give you immediate access to potentially relevant spells, whereas Narset takes a while to do that, especially if you miss on her +1 ability.
On the surface, her -2 ability is most appealing as a way to rebound draw spells but honestly, it’s a Magical Christmasland scenario where you spend four mana on a planeswalker with no board impact and are still able to commit more mana to a draw spell.
Narset will lock out a game once you have the board totally stable but she is terrible at helping you stabilise the board. I just can’t see control decks really wanting this outside of mirror matches.