The Underdogs of Standard
Hello all! Name’s Clayton Lin, but you can call me Clay. It’s much easier that way. Today I want to talk about some of Standard’s most underrated creatures- by underrated I mean, not absolutely constructed unplayable, but creatures that are either obnoxious to remove, annoying to play around, or demand answers immediately, or else swing the game heavily in their favour.
I’m very thankful that very few decks utilize Spell Queller these days. Having to play around Spell Queller is a different beast than playing around countermagic, Spell Queller on the face of it hits everything relevant in the current metagame- Gideon, Ally of Zendikar, Chandra, Torch of Defiance, and Unlicensed Disintegration in Mardu Vehicles and Aetherworks Marvel in Temur/Bant Aetherworks.
Why it hasn’t seen play: It doesn’t block Heart of Kiran profitably, and if your opponent suspects you holding it up, all they would have to do is just swing already existing pieces until you have to drop it, or play something else, essentially Time Walking yourself and losing out on mana, and if it does get removed, your opponent gets it back, so essentially winning out in the exchange.
Bristling Hydra. 10/10 would not have a beer with. With enough energy accumulation, or deploying it when your opponent is completely tapped out, it rapidly becomes obnoxious to remove conventionally, often forcing your opponents to dig for a board wipe or a sacrifice effect, or leave enough chump blockers to not lose planeswalkers or life total to it. It also turns on Rhonas, The Indomitable, from Amonkhet, whilst having the ability to hexproof to prevent Rhonas from going back into his quiet slumber.
Why it hasn’t seen play: It only really fits in G/B Aggro, and those decks at best have it as a 2 of or none of in the main and/or sideboard. It’s inability to cut past blockers hinders its quality, and then there’s the corner case of Hydra being removed with its Energy trigger on the stack. But Bristling Hydra’s absence has always baffled me, considering it’s one of the best cards against Mardu Vehicles.
Baral, Chief of Compliance
Whilst Baral sees plenty of Modern play as Goblin Electromancers 5-8 (or are Goblin Electromancers are 5-8s of Baral?), he is barely seen in U/x control shells, being supplanted by the far more potent and more expensive (mana wise and money wise) Torrential Gearhulk. On the other hand, Baral can be dropped very early on in the game, and provides a draw and a discard whenever you play countermagic- at a greatly reduced cost- turning a Disallow into Counterspell is bound to win games from time to time and frustrate your opponents immensely. Baral has to be immediately answered, or could otherwise simply control the opponent’s game.
Why it hasn’t seen play: Torrential Gearhulk. Control decks want as few creatures as possible to blank out your opponent’s removal in game 1, and Torrential Gearhulk provides value. Also it doesn’t block powered Toolcraft Exemplars and Scrapheap Scroungers profitably.
Lambholt Pacifist had seen better days. She was a 4x of in certain Collected Company lists. The combo of Dromoka’s Command to turn it on for combat as well as punching away an opponent’s blocker was a potent game swinger. But Lambholt Pacifist is still terrifying to boot, particularly against control decks. Control often has to let it flip (but more often the control player has a way to answer a 3/3), and 4/4s are not particularly easy to answer, especially when backed up by other threats. It also crews Heart of Kiran to boot and its flip side turns on Rhonas, the Indomitable. Not too shabby for a forgotten two drop from a very overlooked set.
Why it hasn’t seen play: No good shell to fit it in. This one is as simple as that. Aggro decks can force it to flip back to the frontside by playing two cheap spells.
4/5, mill 4. Fuels delirium, all in a single beefy package that demands premium removal (revolted Fatal Push is often difficult to pull off in a majority of top level decks), and completely stonewalls Heart of Kiran and a whole bunch of other things. Whilst it is often a juicy target for an Unlicensed Disintegration, the fact that it demands it means one that won’t blow up an Ishkanah, Grafwidow down the track, and threaten Gideon, Ally of Zendikar if your opponent doesn’t have it. Combined with Liliana Death’s Majesty, you have a guaranteed way to protect the necromancer from an aerial assault.
Why it hasn’t seen play: Whilst it is a taxing creature, it is only a single creature- the aforementioned vulnerability to premium removal puts it in the same camp as Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet- and Kalitas is infinitely better than Mindwrack Demon.
Sphinx of the Final Word
He who casts this has the final word on the duel between the control mages. Sphinx of the Final Word is commonly played in the control mirrors in order to lock out your opponent’s countermagic, but there are uses to this hefty finisher too- its a 5/5 flying that is hexproof so conventional removal bounces off this guy; you better dig up that board wipe in 4 turns (and let me guess, you’ve probably sideboarded them out against control).
Why it hasn’t seen play: It is 7 mana at sorcery speed. The turn in which you cast this leaves you open for something to resolve. Imagine if it’s another Sphinx of the Final Word…
Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
A forgotten rare from an under-opened set that contains a very much banned card. Everytime I see an Ayli on the field, she always overperforms. Whilst the existence of Fatal Push has undercut her existence, but the fact with a single mana open, she can turn off spot removal such as Unlicensed Disintegration, and turn it into a profitable exchange, or even using it to simply trigger the flip side of Archangel Avacyn. With 30 life, she can continuously Anguished Unmaking on demand provided you have a creature to spare.
Why it hasn’t seen play: There isn’t a widely acknowledged B/W midrange deck running around in Standard. She saw some play in previous iterations of Mardu Vehicles along with Scrap Trawler, but nothing more beyond that. Strategies based around sacrificing your own creatures has not been popular as of recently.
Shielded Aether Thief
In early iterations of Temur Dynavolt, Shielded Aether Thief had the role of coming down to stall Mardu Vehicles decks, but as later iterations of the deck worked itself out, Shielded Aether Thief was simply retrenched, either in its entirety, or relegated to the sideboard. Shielded Aether Thief blocks highly relevant stuff early on and causes sideboarding issues for your opponent- do they keep small creature removal in order to clear it fast enough, or do they board in for the big stuff and just somehow push through 0/4 blockers? That aside, if you have spare energy lying around, it can function as card advantage.
Why it hasn’t seen play: Often when it comes to building control decks, especially decks with Dynavolt Tower, you often want more spells than creatures and Shielded Aether Thief is often simply stealing Dynavolt’s thunder.
Never underestimate these underdogs. You never know when you might have to run against them. Or you might even be tempted to sleeve some of these up…
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