Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! M21 Standard is already here, and we are starting to see some creative decks and ideas pop up. With so many useful cards being printed in this Core Set, it would be crazy to think that the metagame could have no changes whatsoever. Some of these new tools have made an impact in pre-existing archetypes, others appear to be inspiring some new strategies and game plans, while a few are so powerful that they became the reason to play the deck in the first place.
Today, I want to focus on what is not going to change for the time being. Even though this last expansion has what it takes to be part of the pivotal structure of the Standard format, its real influence won’t be recognized until some of the already dominant spells rotate out. The power level and efficiency of some of the cards being played is just so high, that there is almost no actual reprint or new idea that Wizards can come up with, that would actually dethrone and push them out in exchange of something better, or at least present an alternative of similar quality.
You start to realize this problem, when the scenario that comes up when building a deck is almost always the same: Trying to include different cards raises the question “is this better than what I was playing before, or am I adding new cards just for the sake of keeping things fresh?”. The answer more often than not, is that the cards we have been playing were so strong, that replacing them is a pure mistake. In fact, we are forced to start the deck building process altogether with these well-known robust cards, because we know they are where you have to be in order to stay competitive.
This is not necessarily a bad thing, as many competitive Standard formats eventually find the best tools to play with and get close to being “solved”, especially when they’re just a couple of months away from rotation. Having said that, this layout might make us think that Core Set 2021 is not as important as we thought, and that is not true, as we are looking at its power within the shadow of an already existing structure that won’t let it demonstrate its full potential. After all, it is only one set out of the eight currently in Standard.
In no particular order, I want to mention three cards that I think are almost irreplaceable at this point, and that will be responsible for refreshing deck building and gameplay altogether, once they rotate out of Standard in September. Keep in mind that, even though not every deck plays these cards, what I’m trying to highlight is that you need a very good reason for not include them, if your deck is in those colors (and that reason might still be wrong).
A traditional two mana ramp spell, this is not. This Simic card has a couple of characteristics that place it over the top of other options that we could consider:
First of all, it puts the land into play untapped, which lets you use that extra mana right away. If you manage to do so, it is as if your Growth Spiral essentially cost one single mana (which is, of course, very strong).
The other important factor is that can be played at instant speed: usually “ramp” decks tend to have linear starts (their first few turns tend to be always the same), but when your two mana accelerant can be played at the end of your opponents turn, it gives you the flexibility to hit that extra land drop, or interact with the other player if it is required (and sometimes do both, “Growth Spiral, Mystical Dispute your Teferi”, anyone?).
But even with those amazing upsides, I think there is another reason why this spell is played in so many decks, and one that I can’t find a good explanation for: It is a two mana non-creature ramp spell. A comparison with cards like Paradise Druid or Arboreal Grazer wouldn’t be correct, as those are creatures and require different scenarios for them to be good. If we had a mono green alternative in the format such as Rampant Growth or Farseek (which I think could make an appearance at some point, given that now we have trilands with basic land types), the flexibility in deck building could have been higher. But as things are, you are obligated to assemble your strategy around Green AND Blue first, in order to play the only good two mana ramp spell. We do have Wolfwillow Haven, but it only produces green mana.
Core Set 2021 gave us a decent card like Cultivate, which is mono color and serves a similar purpose, being ramp, fixing, and card advantage in one spell, but it just can’t be used in the same way, because it costs three mana and is a Sorcery. Jumping from 2 to 4, its very different from jumping from 3 to 5. The type of ramp spell you can play determines the payoffs you can choose to make us of that mana acceleration.
I really hope that, once rotation happens in September, the first new set will provide a good substitute for Growth Spiral but not as overpowered. A two mana ramp spell that is just one color, that leaves the door open for ramp decks to play other color combinations (though you will have always start with green, because ramping is a green thing!).
Teferi, Time Raveler
What more can we say about the legendary “T3feri” that hasn’t been said? One of the most powerful planeswalkers ever printed, that will not represent a win condition by itself, but will instead dramatically change the way the game is played. Undoing your opponent’s turn, drawing a card right away, and forcing the other player to play at sorcery speed until they get rid of him: this is a line of play that has determined what permanents can be played in almost every deck for a long time. Three drops that do not give you value or affect the board right away seemed to be unplayable at one point, counter spells needed to be able to deal with the three mana planeswalker more than anything else, because he alone could make your hand unplayable. These scenarios still happen in Standard today, and there is no M21 card that can change that.
It is not that this new Core Set wasn’t strong enough to compete, but rather that cards like Teferi, Time Raveler are almost impossible to replace in their colors and converted mana costs. If you are playing Blue and White, you almost always have to start your deck building process with four copies of him. If you are planning to play any deck, it doesn’t matter if it intends to an aggressive plan, midrange, or control, you need to know what you will do against him, you need to know how you will react when Teferi comes into play. Because he will.
Once the Azorius mage rotates out of Standard, it might create opportunities for other cards to be more relevant. Maybe three drops that were susceptible to its -3 can be competitive, maybe counterspells become more efficient without the fear of being stuck dead in your hand. But most importantly, it will lower the power level bar, and increase the playable options available (unless of course, we get a Zendikar themed Teferi of similar power level for no coherent reason!).
What has happened here? Why has a removal/tempo spell like this becomes one of the most played cards in the format? Why have we waited a full year (from M20 to M21) to have an alternative to this spell, and yet still can’t overcome its effectiveness? Aether Gust sees play in almost every Standard deck that can produce blue mana, whether as a maindeck card or in the sideboard. The ability to interact with a spell on the stack, or a permanent already in play is very powerful, and flexible enough to get you out of most problems, at least temporarily, and that two mana usually ends up being much less than what your opponent invested.
How can a card that was supposedly created as a sideboard option become a highly played main deck tool? Well, its effectiveness is just so frequent since most decks these days use Red or Green spells in some form that ends up being worth taking the risk of sometimes having a dead card in your hand. In fact, all the M20 “color hosers” are way too good. Does Veil of Summer ring a bell to anyone? This was the first time in the history of the game, that a card originally designed as a sideboard tool was so absurdly pushed that a banning was required. Countering a spell for just one mana and drawing a card in the process, it has even been compared with Cryptic Command. Of course, Aether Gust is not in the same league, but it too has been severely pushed, to the point where playing it maindeck is still worth the risk of not having a target for it, because it’s just that good when you do.
If you have it in your opening hand, it will probably trade with one of your opponents turns. If you top deck it in the mid to late game, it can deal with a creature or planeswalker. If your opponent wants to get that spell or permanent back, it will essentially trade for one of their draw steps. Most of the time, when the other player puts that card back on top of their library, it is not going to have the same impact as it could have had the turn you Aether Gusted, since you created a tempo advantage, and can prepare for it knowing that it is coming back. In my opinion, cards that are good against specific colors should be available in the format, but they should be a bit weaker overall, to ensure that they are played in the right matchups and as sideboard alternatives.
Bant Ramp by Jonathan Hobbs – SCG Tour Online Championship Qualifier #2 (4th)
Do you agree with these choices? What other cards do you think have been limiting the deck building process in Standard? Do you think M21 should have been more impactful? Let me know what you think in the comments section below. As always, thanks for reading, you can catch me live on Twitch, or follow me on Twitter.