Top 8 Cards That Will Be Missed Post Rotation
In a Standard format that was plagued by bans, unfun play patterns, and new cards that just couldn’t find space in the Throne of Eldraine-dominated format, there were nonetheless a couple of gems. As we prepare for rotation, I bid farewell to a few of my favorites.
8. M21 Planeswalkers
Planeswalkers are notoriously difficult to design. They’re difficult to interact with, particularly if they’re cheap, tend to intrinsically be a two-for-one, and can warp the entire game around themselves. Alternatively, they can see absolutely no play. While there will be exceptions, the best-designed planeswalkers find a happy middle ground, where they’re able to serve as role-players without making the entire game about themselves.
The M21 planeswalkers as a whole come very, very close to hitting that Goldilocks Zone. All five saw some play at different points in their Standard lives in one or two archetypes, though none had much staying power. Like most other well-balanced cards in this Standard format, these walkers fell victim to being overshadowed by Eldraine powerhouses.
What makes these walkers particularly noteworthy is that only the minus abilities on Liliana and Garruk oh and also actually (usually) generate a card’s worth of value. That they’re not card advantage engines just by sitting on the board means that they’re less likely to warp gameplay around removing them. This is a healthy design space for planeswalkers that I hope Wizards explores further in the future.
Wizards realized long ago that restrictions in cards made for more interesting gameplay in Standard. Instead of Counterspell, for example, give players the choice between playing Censor, Essence Scatter, and Negate. This leads to more interesting deckbuilding and sideboarding decisions and reduces instances of “all control decks begin with four copies of Counterspell.”
Sweepers have followed the same design trajectory. Since Day of Judgment and Supreme Verdict back in 2012, we’ve had a long line of five-mana unconditional sweepers with upside (End Hostilities, Fumigate, Doomskar, Crux of Fate, Cleansing Nova). More recently, Wizards has been willing to experiment with four-mana sweepers with downsides (Kaya's Wrath, Shatter the Sky, Ritual of Soot) as well.
Extinction Event is an interesting card because it is a mix of an upside and a downside. Exiling, particularly in a format filled with Escape creatures, Anax, Hardened in the Forge, and Seasoned Hallowblade, is highly appealing. The odd/even clause means that you might not hit everything you want – but also that you might be able to break the symmetry of the sweeper. This kind of situational ambiguity in how good the card is makes it an interesting card both to play and to play against, which is rare for a sweeper. Sweepers are necessary, but rarely are they fun or interesting, and that’s where Extinction Event managed to break the mold. I hope we get more such sweepers in the future.
Scavenging Ooze is Standard graveyard hate done right. It can be played around once it’s down, with Green mana capping its activations, but is almost always going to eat something tasty when it’s first played. It doesn’t put the caster down a card to play it, is actually quite a reasonable threat itself, but is also easy to remove with spells or in combat. Fundamentally, it’s not a card like Rest in Peace, which says “Graveyard player loses,” but is also not as weak as Soul-Guide Lantern, which is one-time use and puts the caster down a card.
Scavenging Ooze is a healthy card to have in Standard formats because it is a highly effective answer that can be easily interacted with, grows more powerful the longer it stays around, and has very real bottlenecks around how many cards it can eat. The mana system is one of the greatest, most vital components of Magic: the Gathering; getting stronger effects for more mana is logical and leads to good gameplay. Scavenging Ooze’s activation costing colored mana is an extension of this, scaling power both in amounts of mana and in a player’s “devotion” to Green. Much like Negate and Essence Scatter, I’d love to see Scavenging Ooze become a regular visitor to Standard formats.
Grafting effects that are traditionally seen on Instants and Sorceries onto Enchantments, particularly in a format with Yorion, Sky Nomad, Doom Foretold, the Constellation mechanic, Enigmatic Incarnation, and Dance of the Manse was a brilliant idea. One of the real costs to playing decks that want lots of permanents is that every instant or sorcery included is a “lost” slot. The first time we were in Theros, Wizards fixed this by making every Constellation creature an Enchantment Creature. This time, they opted to instead provide “spells” on instant-speed enchantments.
The Omens were fun, fair, and didn’t require additional synergies to be good. Instead, they unlocked deck-building space that was long reserved for artifacts – make a bunch of them and cool stuff will happen – but did it in a way that felt different by encouraging blinking or even sacrificing them.
While Wizards likely has to be careful that they avoid venturing into “Arcum's Astrolabe” tier of power with these types of cards, I do look forward to seeing more, and will miss the Omens when they’re gone.
Klothys, God of Destiny is another take on a healthy design for a graveyard-hate card. It compensates for being far worse at actually hating graveyards by being difficult to interact with and by providing a slow inevitability of draining out the opponent. Like Scavenging Ooze, it has enough going for it outside of its weaker graveyard hate to merit inclusion in mainboards or, when it is sideboarded, to not feel awful drawing when the opponent isn’t doing the graveyard thing at the moment.
It also had real utility elsewhere; it did double-duty in the sideboard as a powerful threat against control decks, for example. It could give an edge in aggressive mirrors by bolstering a player’s life total or generating a one-time burst of mana advantage. Klothys is one of the better-designed Theros Gods, a role player that shows up, but is flexible, beatable, and balanced.
So much of Shark Typhoon’s design is perfect. First off, it’s an enchantment which exists primarily to be cycled, which means it can provide Escape fuel, do cool things with Dance of the Manse and Eerie Ultimatum, and, in older formats, help with Delirium, given that enchantments typically want to stay on the battlefield. Second, it’s fantastically flexible. In the early game, it can be cycled for X=0 or 1 just to hit a land drop or make a chump blocker.
Like Scavenging Ooze, it uses the mana to scale in power level, but is always below curve. A four-mana 2/2 with flying is a bad creature. A four-mana 2/2 with flash and flying that draws a card… still not great. But the ability of the card to scale flexibly is what makes it so appealing (even ignoring that it has a “hardcast” mode).
Additionally, the creation of the shark can’t, for the most part, be countered. In the past, I’ve argued that cards that limit interaction are bad, but in this case, the result of the cycling is a below-average body that dies to every removal spell in the format. Heartless Act, Eliminate kill it no matter what, and Fire Prophecy deals with it up until Turn 5. Because it’s so below-curve, it’s also easy to beat in combat.
Finally, Wizards found a sneaky way to get a big, flashy, Commander-esque effect into competitive Standard decks. By stapling the “hardcast” mode onto a card that is typically cycled, they incentivized players to do something cool that doesn’t typically see play in Standard (think Metallurgic Summonings). However, the cost is very real; six mana is a lot, the caster typically needs to untap to get value, the value is often questionable, and Shark Typhoon is much easier to interact with on the board than in the hand. There are significant downsides, but when it goes off, it sure is fun to watch.
Shark Typhoon is a homerun, and I’m glad it’s seeing play in older formats, as this isn’t a card I’m ready to bid farewell to.
Three-color lands are always Standard staples, and this time around, they came with upside. Lands with cycling are wildly appealing because they mitigate some of the worst feel-bad moments in the game: flooding. In older formats, the fact that these lands have basic land types, thus being fetchable, has made them easy includes in a variety of deck. With the release of MH2, these also provide easy ways for two-color decks to access a third color for Prismatic Ending.
While I will miss these cards for the great mana-fixing and flood mitigation they provided in Standard, I look forward to playing with them for a long, long time in Pioneer and Modern.
Wizards did something remarkable with the Castles of Eldraine; they made a cycle of utility lands which all saw high amounts of play, but none of which were broken. How did they do it?
Sometimes, Wizards misses by designing cards too narrowly; they design a card for a specific aggro deck that they believe will be played in the format, but then it never gets played. Imagine, for example if Castle Embereth pumped Knights only, or Castle Garenbrig’s mana could only be used to cast Trolls. Sometimes, they design too broadly; the most extreme example of this is something like Smuggler's Copter, is competitively costed, and does something every deck wants to do.
The Castles, on the other hand, were designed for archetypes that their respective colors typically play. Castles Ardenvale and Vantress are pushed tools for UW Control decks; tapping five lands to Scry 2 or make a 1/1 at instant speed is exactly what a UW Control deck wants to do, but also something that no other archetype in Magic would find even mildly appealing. Castle Locthwain’s life loss clause means that it’s at its best in an aggro deck, decent (but with a real cost) in a Black midrange deck, and pretty bad in a draw-go control deck. Castle Embereth was most likely to miss because it’s only worthwhile in a go-wide Red Aggro deck as opposed to a Burn-style Red Aggro deck. However, the presence of Embercleave and Anax in conjunction with the lack of playable burn spells made it a safe bet as to the direction of the aggressive Red decks. Finally Castle Garenbrig does something that every deck wants, but makes it incredibly narrow by generating only Green mana that can be used for creatures. Of course, this isn’t a restriction at all for Green creature decks. Conveniently, Wizards costed Kogla, the Titan Ape and Feasting Troll King perfectly to be cast early with Castle (and even earlier with Gilded Goose and Tangled Florahedron).
For this particular Standard format, even with all its flaws, these lands are a glowing mark of perfection, both in their design and development. Wizards hit a home run with these, and I’ve greatly enjoyed activating all five of them over the last two years.
Ryan Normandin is a grinder from Boston who has lost at the Pro Tour, in GP & SCG Top 8's, and to 7-year-olds at FNM. Despite being described as "not funny" by his best friend and "the worst Magic player ever" by Twitch chat, he cheerfully decided to blend his lack of talents together to write funny articles about Magic.
Buylist Hot Buys