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The Most Important Cards In Standard (And How To Beat Them)


Fall Standard rotation is always one of the most exciting times in Magic: The Gathering.

Not only do we get a brand-new set to sink our teeth into (and Dominaria United as not disappointed so far), but we also see the exit of four sets from Standard, shrinking it from a very large eight sets down all the way to only five. This means that not only are we playing with new Dominaria United cards, but also cards from the previous sets that may have been overshadowed in a large Standard format but now get to shine with less competition.

However, as is the nature with all card games the cream will rise to the top, and there are always going to be the cards that define the format. Today I am going to go over those cards, and more importantly go over how to beat them!

The Meathook Massacre

The Meathook Massacre

Ah yes, the elephant in the room.

I don't think The Meathook Massacre is the best card in Standard, but the combination of Black being the most played color as well as the massive effect that The Meathook Massacre often has on games makes it perhaps the most impactful card in the format. The Meathook Massacre makes trying to be aggressive or go wide with small creatures very difficult, because it is not only a sweeper but also a source of lifegain to offset the early aggression.

If you're looking for the baseline "level zero" deck of the new format, this is it. There are a ton of great Black cards in the format, from good removal like Cut Down, to haymakers like Invoke Despair, and The Meathook Massacre sits front and center allowing this deck not to fall to early aggression and get to its big powerful spells.

How To Beat It

However, The Meathook Massacre is probably the easiest card on this list to build around because it is so linear in what it does. The Meathook Massacre is very good at killing a lot of small creatures at a decent rate, as well as gaining life in the process to keep your opponent alive. You could infer the solution to be "don't play creatures," but the reality is closer to "don't play threats that are bad against The Meathook Massacre."

If your opponent plays The Meathook Massacre with X=3 to kill your one good creature, that's a great exchange for you. Similarly, The Meathook Massacre does nothing against planeswalkers, artifacts, or enchantments. Now this isn't to say that these card types are invulnerable against the other elements of Black decks.

Cut Down
Invoke Despair
Soul Transfer

What makes the Black decks so solid is their ability to handle most things (even enchantments!), but that doesn't mean there aren't holes. When it comes to just The Meathook Massacre though, it's definitely a card you can build around as long as you have it in mind when you build your deck.

If you build a new deck in Standard that looks weak to The Meathook Massacre, you may need to rethink things - it's just one of the rules of the format.

Fable Of The Mirror-Breaker

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

While The Meathook Massacre is the most complained about card in Standard, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is far and away the actual best card in the format.

Each individual thing that Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki does doesn't feel broken in any way. A couple of 2/2s with good abilities and without haste and a little bit of card filtering all sounds super fair, but the amount of value and upside you get from the whole package only costing three-mana is astounding.

Magda, Brazen Outlaw
Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker

If you break it down to one mana each for one effect, you're getting a pseudo-Magda, Brazen Outlaw for one mana, a sometimes-better-than-Brainstorm for one mana (it's better because you've already spent the card/mana and the cards go to the graveyard rather than your library and don't need to be shuffled), and then a slightly slower one-mana Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker.

However, what's so excellent is not only the value you are getting, but how well Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki greases the wheels.

A turn three Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki threatens to both ramp and fix your mana on turn four as well as your hand, and that's to say nothing of the synergies it enables. It can create an artifact every turn for various artifact synergies; it's an enchantment itself which can work with enchantment themes; it helps facilitate graveyard strategies by giving you a discard outlet that doesn't waste your mana or cards; and perhaps most importantly it can set up all sorts of repeatable locks that your opponent must deal with (like copying Bloodtithe Harvester or enters the battlefield abilities every turn).

How To Beat It

It's hard to attack Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki because it just does so many things so efficiently, but there are ways. Number one is just to counter it or discard it before your opponent can play it, as this is the only way to ensure they don't get some amount of value from it. Duress, Spell Pierce, or Make Disappear all fit this category, but this isn't an option for every deck.

If you can't stop it from coming down, you want to make sure that you can at least somewhat answer the card at parity. While it's sometimes just necessary, you really don't want to use a single target removal spell on either the token or Reflections of Kiki-Jiki if you can avoid it. This means being able to attack through and overpower the 2/2s, or using a card that kill both the token and the enchantment at once.

The Elder Dragon War
Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute
Unleash the Inferno

Unleash the Inferno may be the cleanest answer to the Goblin token plus the Fable, but it does answer it at a mana deficit. You can use mass removal like The Elder Dragon War or The Meathook Massacre to clear out both sides in a pinch, but even just having a card like Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute which can kill the token but leave something worthwhile behind is reasonable too.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki is probably the hardest card to straight up "beat" on this list, which is why it is the best card in the format.

Wedding Announcement

Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity

From one three-mana enchantment to another, Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity has a lot in common with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki.

It's a three-mana enchantment that is easy to cast, difficult to remove, and effects the board immediately, while building up to a huge advantage. It also does an excellent job of greasing the wheels of your other cards, providing you fodder for sacrifice effects as well as blockers to protect planeswalkers, and can also draw cards at times too. Stacking up two or three of them also presents a very real threat to your opponent as things size up quickly.

Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity is a bit less ubiquitous than Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki because it's not quite synergistic in almost every strategy, but is still a major piece of the format. It's hard to attack into, great against spot removal, and great at building up a board presence.

How To Beat It

The ways to beat Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity are similar to Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki as well. If you can counter or discard it before it is cast that is the cleanest answer, but not always possible.

As such, mass removal is again one of the best options. One difference is that actually just destroying Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity directly right away is much more valuable than destroying Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki. If you can destroy if before the first end step, awesome, but even if you destroy it after they've gotten their first token it's still not that bad of an exchange.

Applying pressure with larger creatures is also very solid against Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity, as if the tokens are too small to matter you can often overwhelm your opponent. This of course may play into other cards in your opponent's deck, so be careful.

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Sheoldred, the Apocalypse

Ah yes, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse.

I wasn't the only person to underestimate Sheoldred during preview season, making her perhaps the biggest surprise of the entire set. Sheoldred looks like a Siege Rhino, but because many of the format's primary removal spells don't kill her and most creatures aren't large enough to get through her, Sheoldred ends up sitting on the battlefield unscathed much more than expected. Considering that one of the best ways to get back into a game if you're behind is drawing cards (via card draw, Blood tokens, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki chapter 2, etc), Sheoldred really puts you in a bind.

We're seeing Sheoldred pop up in more and more places, including Pioneer, and because Black has so many phenomenal tools in Standard right now, Sheoldred slots in perfectly. Like The Meathook Massacre, Sheoldred is especially troublesome for aggressive strategies that may be skimping on removal for more threats. Sheoldred is huge for it's mana value and is capable of gaining a lot of life, meaning it's just not the kind of card you can ignore.

How To Beat It

Just kill her!

The reason I was initially low on Sheoldred early on was because that she doesn't actually do anything the turn you cast it aside from being big. If your opponent is able to kill her with a cheap removal spell, you're just tapping out for your turn and not getting any value, which isn't ideal for a 4-drop - Sheoldred has the potential to be a tempo black hole.

Voltage Surge
Cut Down
Brutal Cathar // Moonrage Brute

The issue in these early weeks of Standard is that most decks just aren't prepared to adequately kill Sheoldred. Sheoldred's size lines up very well against the format, as she dodges many of the format's removal spells while also outsizing large portions of the format. Because people have been so unprepared, Sheoldred has been allowed to enter the battlefield and stay there for very long periods of time, completely dominating games. So, what's the lesson here?

Infernal Grasp
Valorous Stance
Essence Scatter

Don't be unprepared!

You're not going to want to sleeve up a deck in Standard right now that can't kill a Sheoldred. Make sure you have good ways to kill her and punish your opponent for tapping out for her. Flexibility is big here, because you don't want your more proactive deck to be glutted down with removal spells, but don't leave yourself exposed.

Don't expect to leave Sheoldred in play for three or four turns and still win the game.

Know Your Enemy

There are always going to be a handful of cards in Standard that are a cut above the rest, but the trick to being a winning player is to make sure that you can either utilize these cards excellently, or have a great plan for beating them.

Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki

Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity
The Meathook Massacre

I expect the format to adjust to Sheoldred, the Apocalypse fairly quickly, but the enchantment trio of Fable of the Mirror-Breaker // Reflection of Kiki-Jiki, Wedding Announcement // Wedding Festivity, and The Meathook Massacre will continue to be three of the main pillars of the format. Use them well or beat them, but ignore them at your peril.

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