Exploring M21 Spoilers: Part Three
Hello Planeswalkers from across the globe! The M21 spoiler season is still in progress, and it looks like this Core Set will impact Standard in a huge way. Many of the cards revealed so far appear to have at least some potential or role, and even most of the uncommons are pushed in such a way that makes you want to give them a second read, because they might very well fit into existing archetypes, or just read powerfully enough to indicate some level of playability.
As I explained last time, the idea is to highlight some of the M21 cards that I am most excited to start playing with, along with some thoughts on how I think we should approach them, how they could fit into some of the already existing Standard archetypes, and which kinds of new strategies they might inspire. Keep in mind that as I write this article, only around half of the set’s cards have been revealed so far! Let’s get right into it:
I think this little lifelinker has the potential to be the most impactful one drop printed in a long time, as getting a 5/5 flier out of it is not a particularly difficult task in Standard right now. Cards that already see play, like “Call of the Death-Dweller” or “Lurrus of the Dream-Den”, can easily take full advantage of the archfiend’s abilities. The fact that it is something you can play early in the game as a body and abuse some turns later is also important here, and probably the better approach at deckbuilding with him means being able to exploit both sides of the coin:
If your deck is only built around bringing this creature back from the graveyard to create a huge flyer, with cards that mill yourself and reanimation spells like “Command the Dreadhorde” and the like, you will get value out of it, but you will be missing on the fact that you can get a 1/1 first that you didn’t exploit. Where this card will best shine is in a classic black-based sacrifice deck, as you’ll be able to utilize its body first for value with cards like “Priest of Forgotten Gods”, and then bring him back later for that Demon action!
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse
Even though you might be first inclined to not play this card because of its unpronounceable name, I would still pay attention to it, because its abilities are worth the analysis. This legend has a Blue feeling to it, as its text – card draw triggers and the number of cards in your hand being relevant – has tended to feature more often on Blue than Green cards before now.
As far as stats go, she does not pass the “Bonecrusher Giant” test and won’t be relevant in combat, but if we manage to play her and create a cat token right away, she’s already done her job. I see her making splashes in the sideboards of green decks that are capable of drawing plenty of extra cards, such as Temur Reclamation, as a cheap threat that goes under counterspells post-board, because unanswered, she can win a game by herself. As for main deck action, her abilities might be too weak and not worth the deckbuilding restrictions. If she wasn’t legendary and you could get multiple cats at once might have a chance, but as it is I don’t think we can get there.
Assuming your deck can consistently play this as a two mana creature, this bring some serious power to the table as a 3/3 flyer with scry 2 that will probably get to attack for much more, since if you have enough instant and sorceries to cast it early-on every game, you should have more than enough to make it grow when it enters the red zone.
Keep in mind though that for this elemental to work properly, the deckbuilding constraints are real and you might not be able to execute the aggressive game plan that you envision in the first place; you need instant and sorceries that you can play alongside this creature at any time, that let you keep progressing your game plan (probably card draw spells like “Opt”). You can’t rely as much on spells that are answers to your opponent’s cards, because you might otherwise be stuck with your flyer in hand, waiting for the other player to give you an excuse to cast them… and that may not happen when you want it to!
Originally printed in “Urza’s Saga”, this extraordinary counterspell is making its second appearance in a Core Set, as it was also released in “Magic 2013”. Untapping lands is not an ability we see often in cards nowadays, because it is certainly a powerful (and potentially dangerous) effect: if you are able to utilize your lands again the same turn that you cast Rewind, it essentially costed you a total of ZERO mana to counter something. I emphasize on the fact that you must reuse your mana for it to work as a free spell because, if you are not doing so, it has cost you four mana instead of zero. This is especially important, because many people use the term “Free Counterspell” when referring to this card, without putting much thought into it, and a free card this is not: you NEED to have four untapped lands to cast it in the first place, far from a trivial number to be holding up, and that means it still counts as a four drop in your deck.
As for its playability, everyone will go and add this to their Temur Reclamation lists as fast as they can, as that deck plays almost everything at instant speed and is much better built to abuse this card’s potential than any other. Even though that’s probably not a mistake, I wouldn’t go as far as to include a playset in the 75, because it is still a four mana counter: a weapon you don’t want to bring to a counter war where your opponent is playing two mana Negates and one mana Mystical Disputes!
Created in the classic “Mirrodin” set, and having made an appearance in “Magic 2012”, the colorless value robot is back in Standard after eight years. What may seem like a decent creature, that does many things well but at a high cost and does not excel at any of them, has been part of plenty of competitive tier 1 decks in the past, like the famous red and green ramp deck that players like Paulo Vitor Dame Da Rosa and Brian Kibler played in the top 8 of “Pro Tour Dark Ascension”, and may repeat its past success in the coming weeks!
The problem one could have when approaching the card is the feeling that we are paying much more for effects that we could get much faster and cheaper in the game: “Growth Spiral” costs 2 to get an extra land drop and draw a card, and a four mana 2/2 is nothing to be excited about. While all this is true, it’s the combination of all its abilities together in one spell, plus the fact that it does not ask for mana of any color AND searches for any basic land AND gives you a body to attack and block with that draws a card when it dies, that makes this golem an overall fantastic value card with the right amount of power and flexibility to be a good role-player. Yes, the state of Standard is very different from all those years ago, but I’m willing to bet that there is still time and space for a card like this to have an impact.
With so many abilities printed on this card, and decent stats for its mana cost, I want to think that this knight is playable in constructed and that it has a chance to be included in many different creature strategies. “Protection from Multicolored” evades many important cards in the format (“Teferi, Time Raveler” always being the most relevant of all), “Vigilance” is important in games against aggro, and placing a +1+1 counter as it comes into play makes this essentially a 4/5 with upside, since it will always have those stats, but you have the upside of being able to distribute a piece of its strength differently. This card really saves the best for last; its biggest potential lies in its last ability, as it provides pseudo protection to your creatures with counters on them, by substituting the ones that die with 2/2 tokens.
Not only is that good against sweepers or when trading in combat, but it also brings combo potential to the table, since usually this type of effect is limited to “nontoken creatures”, but in this case it specifically says “…or another creature you control dies…”. That means the knight tokens we create, if we have some way to get counters on them, will spawn copies of themselves when they die! Even though right now there is no tier 1 deck in Standard that may want to add the Lieutenant right away, I don’t think it will take much for another archetype to arise and make full use of it.
Grasp of Darkness
Having more answers is always welcome. As long as there are enough ways to control threats, any format can self-correct and keep its balance; that is why I always enjoy seeing this type of card get reprinted, because it will never be a problem, and it can always represent a solution, such as the time when “Hazoret the Fervent” was rampaging through tournaments, and this innocuous removal spell was the most efficient response to it for heavily black-based decks like Zombies or BG.
In today’s Standard, we can find many removal spells that are way easier to cast and can even destroy more creatures than this, so it might be difficult for it to be included for the time being, especially considering the fact that not many decks can cast it consistently on turn 2 (and you want your deck to be able to cast your two mana removal as early as possible). But as I said, it’s always great to have more options, and this is efficient enough that it may find its way into main decks at some point, such as post-rotation perhaps.
It becomes very clear that Magic is evolving and the power level baseline of its cards is now at a much higher level, when cards like this get printed, and you remember your old days of playing with “Altar’s Reap” in Innistrad or Battle for Zendikar, as this new iteration is without a question much stronger in costing 1 instead of 1B! Decks that want to sacrifice small creatures for value tend to not play many lands and want to do multiple things in one turn, so the difference between one and two mana makes this card titanically more powerful than its previous version.
Appart from being an obvious spell to use in response to an opposing removal spell, without a doubt many sacrifice decks from today can benefit from an instant like this, as sacrificing a “Gutterbones” for two cards will usually be great, getting a “Dreadhorde Butcher” trigger at instant speed sounds like a good deal, and this lets you even sacrifice “Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger” before it dies to its own trigger!
This card screams “power” from every angle. I consider these types of spells to be an example of magnificent design, as it clearly does so many strong things with a huge amount of flexibility, but at the same time it’s not an obvious include in any deck and, just by reading it, you don’t have an immediate idea of how you’re going to use it.
My inclination is that it can first be put to good use in a white aggressive deck, where you will be most of the time upgrading your creatures at instant speed, making them maybe survive a “Deafening Clarion” or getting a good surprise block, and very occasionally using it against a threat. But its many different uses may very well gain it a slot in some non-aggro decks, as a flexible tool that can be used differently depending on the situation and even remove a big creature of planeswalker from your opponent, assuming that your deck can then handle a 4/4 flyer on the other side of the table.
Which cards have you most excited to start brewing? Do you think this Core Set will fundamentally change the Standard metagame, or just improve some of the already existing archetypes?