You may have heard the saying that I am referencing in the title. It’s an old wive’s tale that goes like this: At the wedding she needs Something Old, Something New, Something Borrowed, and Something Blue. It bestows upon her good luck in the marriage. Well, hopefully talking about it will bestow a little good luck on me, as a Magic player I could certainly use it.
Today we’re going to talk about each item: old, new, borrowed, and blue, starting with …
For those who don’t follow the spoilers nearly as much as I do, Liliana Vess has been spoiled to be in Core Set 2015. It’s been a few years since Standard has seen this version of her, the last time was during the “Caw-Blade” era of Standard. I want to evaluate this Planeswalker in the new Standard format, as I feel like it will be certainly powerful. First let us take a look at what she can do:
For 5 mana, you get a Planeswalker that comes down with a starting loyalty of 5. That’s not too shabby since it allows only 2 more turns before you can ultimate, and you can use the ‘-2’ twice without her dying. The other thing I think is important in evaluating Planeswalker cards is what other cards at that mana cost are doing.
In Standard right now for 5 mana you have some pretty sweet choices, including: Obzedat, Ghost Council, Blood Baron of Vizkopa, Stormbreath Dragon, Gray Merchant of Asphodel, Vraska, the Unseen. All of those are cards that are currently being played in Standard that cost 5 mana, and of those cards only 2 will survive the winds of rotation.
However, one of the cards that survives is Gray Merchant of Asphodel. He happens to reward you for playing black permanents, and doesn’t mind being played off curve. The black decks will be keeping their removal spells, Thoughtseize, and they will be gaining a sweet new Planeswalker. I’m definitely liking where this is going. If you love mono-black decks, you will too.
Now as for her +1 ability. It combos with the certainly powerful Waste Not. You get to +1 your Planeswalker and get value out of it as well. On top of that Waste Not is an enchantment so it adds devotion to black for your Gray Merchant. Along with Thoughtseize, Liliana helps give black mages a very strong discard package to consider.
Her ‘-2’ ability is a tutor of sorts, except you don’t get that card until the following turn. However, with the plethora of powerful black cards in Standard you should always have something to tutor for. Need to kill an opposing Planeswalker or creature? Hero’s Downfall is the card you want. Need to gain some life? Gray Merchant seems like a sweet draw the following turn. It also allows you to play more 1-ofs in the deck, so that you can find them when you need them. It’s certainly a powerful ability and should prove to be very useful.
Her “ultimate” is something unique. It rewards you for killing creatures throughout the game, and man is it powerful. Against any mid-range deck you’re just going to win the game, and with any number of Gray Merchant of Aspohdel in the graveyard, you’ll either jump way ahead or just win outright when they re-enter the battlefield.
Ultimately I think this Liliana will be very good in the current Standard and will find its place in a plethora of black-based decks.
This cycle has a new set of cards called the Avatars. They’re Titan-like creatures that have abilities while in play or in the graveyard, allowing them to help you even in death. While I’m not sure how great all of them will be since Standard right now is more about devotion and less about synergy, I certainly hope they’ll end up being very good.
The Black Avatar is probably the worst, as returning 3 creatures to your hand isn’t very powerful. Especially considering all the good non-creature cards that black decks play these days.
The Blue Avatar is down there too, drawing cards for the number of color types among permanents you control hinders the whole “I play devotion to a color” process.
The Green and Red Avatar are actually pretty sweet; making 3/3 Beasts and dealing 3 damage respectively are actions that are almost always useful.
I wonder if there will be a deck brewed up that involves dumping them into the Graveyard for a one-turn thing. Hmmm …
Magic costs A LOT of money. I mean, playing competitively in Standard costs like thousands of dollars a year. If you can’t keep up with rotating formats every few years, and new cards being released, it makes it extremely hard to stay competitive. However, if you can find a great group of guys who have cards you don’t, and vice versa, you can easily swap cards for certain decks.
I know, it sounds completely crazy to think of loaning out thousands of dollars in cards. It happens more often than you might think, though, and is something I feel is necessary to stay competitive. Owning Magic cards is great, and I’m certainly not saying don’t buy cards every time a new set comes out. Do! Buy the cards you want! Then when a new deck comes up that you want to play and you’re missing 4 of a copy of the newest hot Mythic, hopefully you’ll be able to find someone NOT using them.
I also look at it like this. Instead of just going out and buying a new Standard deck, I borrow just about every card I play, including basic lands. At one time I had a great collection, however that’s no more. If I like the deck I’m playing, I’ll start picking up the cards for that deck. That way eventually I can own it. You wouldn’t buy a car without test driving it, would you?
I’d like to talk about blue for a bit. I know, there’s no middle ground on this color. You either loveit or you hate it. Since I fall into the love category though, it’s certainly okay for me to write about it. Where to begin is the toughest issue.
I started playing Magic a few weeks before Scars of Mirrodin came out. I gave my local game store owner $100 to build me a deck, and he built me a budget “Howling Burn” deck with a few sweet cards in it. I was instantly hooked on the game, but I knew that Red wasn’t where I wanted to be. When Scars of Mirrodin came out I played Tempered Steel and the deck was sweet. I had a lot of fun playing it, but couldn’t help but think I wanted more from Magic. I would look back on the decks of Standard like Super Friends and find that they were blue-based control decks. That’s what I wanted to be playing.
Enter the Caw-Blade Era. Like blue as a color, there is no in-between. You either loved it or you hated it. I was once again on the loving side, but not at first. I had an awesome R/B Mimic Vat deck that I used to crush Caw-Blade constantly, but eventually I succumbed to the power of the deck and shelled out money for my first ever playset of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. I didn’t like the traditional Blue-White build, nor the Esper, nor American color decks. Instead I chose Bant. At the time it seemed awkward, however Garruk Wildspeaker combined quite nicely in the deck as a way to fight through Mana Leak, or as a way to make creatures who could carry swords. The deck led me to my first PTQ top 8 and I was hooked. Then Standard rotated into the Innistrad block, and along came blue tempo decks. Delver of Secrets was the new go-to card in Standard and I picked up the deck quite quickly. It felt super powerful because you’d have that Delver turn 1, and flip a Mana Leak turn 2 and they’d just be so far behind.
Now that you know how I got hooked, lets fast forward to today and we’ll leave the rest of that story for some other time. Today’s blue decks suck. That’s all there is to it. You can argue Esper control and Blue-White control put up results, but the bottom line is they suck. Standard hasn’t had a good control deck since before Theros when Esper control with 4 Nephalia Drownyards was a thing. While Sphinx’s Revelation is a fine card, and so is most of the rest of the deck, it’s missing a huge piece of what it needs.
To start, control has been begging for Mana Leak or a similar card for a long time now. There’s no reason Standard shouldn’t have a good 2cc counterspell. 3cc counterspells are durdly and slow, almost impossible to help at all on the draw and just don’t do enough. When I spend more than 2 mana on my counterspell I want to draw a card, or bounce something, or do SOMETHING besides just “counter a spell” and no, scrying doesn’t count.
Blue also needs a good mana efficient draw spell. Considering most lists play so many Jace, Architect of Thoughts simply because he’s the best option they have to draw cards is pathetic. There should be something in Standard that’s cheap and rewards you for the mana you spend. Preordain, Ponder, and Serum Vision all only cost 1 mana and all say ‘draw a card’. Standard really needs something like that.
Next we need a wrath effect. Sure, currently we have Supreme Verdict, but I certainly hope they give us something when it rotates out because I do not want to be paying 7 mana for a wrath. That’s way too over-costed for any card really to be played in Standard.
Without the proper tools, post-rotation Blue control decks will most likely be dead in Standard. Ultimately we’ll have to see what cards get printed, but I wouldn’t put it past Wizards to kill off an archetype. However, they are printing a new Jace in Core 15. For those who haven’t seen the artwork, it looks sweet. Hopefully the card will be exactly what only one Jace before it was. Good.
It felt really nice to rant about the control decks in Standard, especially post-rotation. Let me know your thoughts and feelings on one of the only non-devotion strategies in Standard and how you think it’ll fare in a post-rotation world.
As always, happy spell-slinging!
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