Being a Magic content creator in 2020 is tough.
We've already seen a half a dozen bans so far this year, which means that a number of times already I've had an article or video go defunct very quickly... sometimes before it even gets published! This of course happened last week, as I went over five cards that were very good at attacking the Standard metagame. Unsurprisingly, the banning of Omanth, Locus of Creation, Lucky Clover, and Escape to the Wilds has made for a completely different metagame, which makes that article mostly defunct.
That's the bad news, but the good news is that it looks like we have a fun and healthy Standard format again!
Without a huge pile of absurd ramp cards and payoffs or broken three mana planeswalkers, Standard is starting to look the format it usually is - fair Magic where games aren't decided on turn four and card advantage actually matters. No more helplessly staring at your opponent who somehow has 9 lands in play on turn four! No more watching a three mana planeswalker invalidate all of your cards! No more four mana enchantments that produce a dozen mana a turn! This of course alters the rules of engagement drastically, which greatly modifies how we need to evaluate cards.
Standard is back to fair Magic!
Threats, answers, card advantage... having played new Standard all week it really feels like the way Standard is supposed to be. However, this is a radical departure to what Standard has felt like over the last year or so. Going one for one and playing "normal" Magic wasn't really possible when going over the top was the norm, but now things have changed.
So, let's take a look at five of the most important cards in our new Standard format!
Bonecrusher Giant is just an absurd Magic card.
It sees play in every format, but has largely been held back in Standard because it doesn't line up super well against many of the busted cards that have been banned. Shock and a good sized body don't matter much to Oko, Thief of Crowns, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, or Nissa, Who Shakes the World, but when you're playing good honest Magic it feels really bad to see your 2- or 3-drop fall to a Stomp knowing theirs a free 4/3 on it's way too.
While this may be the most obvious card on the list today, it's less important that you recognize that Bonecrusher Giant is a good card to put in your deck and more important to recognize what this means to how you need to build your deck going forward. Playing a creature that dies to Stomp on curve without gaining any value is going to be a tough sell, and 3 toughness becomes the magic number. Understanding which creatures pass the "Bonecrusher Giant test" and which done will go a very long way towards improving your win rate.
Bonecrusher Giant is great, but you can build your deck to mitigate it!
Is there a better face for fair Magic than Scavenging Ooze?
Seriously, the little ooze that could sees play in almost every format, but never feels unfair or oppressive. Scavenging Ooze also is at its strongest against the most powerful zone in Magic, helping to handle recursive threats and loving to see the game go long.
Well while Scavenging Ooze was never enough to matter against all the other cards in the Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath decks, it is exceedingly good against the cards that Kroxa, Titan of Death's Hunger likes to hang out with. Scavenging Ooze is a wrecking ball against the Rakdos Graveyard deck I've been playing in high Mythic, making short work of escape creatures as well as much improved threats like Skyclave Shade. It's also awesome against Dimir Rogues, always having something to snack on as well as neutering Lurrus of the Dream-Den and weakening Drown in the Loch.
All of the over-the-top engines of Standard being gone means that playing Scavenging Ooze in a Jund-style (not necessarily colors) good stuff midrange deck is very appealing as well. Scavenging Ooze's stock is soaring and it's important to either get on board or be ready to deal with it if your deck involves the graveyard. It even passes the Bonecrusher Giant test as long as you play it with a mana up!
When compared to Escape to the Wilds, Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath, or Hydroid Krasis, Mazemind Tome looks silly. It's slow, only offers you a maximum of four cards, and takes four or more turns to do its work. However, when the format slows down and you actually can expect to see those four turns (and more), it turns into one of the better avenues for card advantage in the format.
Four cards is four cards, and getting to both break up the payments over multiple turns, leave the mana up on your opponent's turn for counterspells, and gain some life back for your trouble to help stabilize ends up being a great deal in a nickel and dime format. Sphinx's Revelation for four was often backbreaking and cost seven mana up front, while Mazemind Tome gets the same result for one more mana but spread out over a few turns.
The Great Henge
Speaking of huge card advantage artifacts, The Great Henge is one of the most improved cards in the entire format.
Embercleave is one of the few remaining pillars from past pre-ban Standard formats, and while it is still one of the most powerful cards in the format it looks a lot worse when everyone is trying to play fair Magic with removal and grind. Embercleave is a lot like Temur Battle Rage in Modern; a phenomenal way for decks to get the jump on removal light decks like Tron or Scapeshift, but a liability against fair decks with a lot of cheap removal.
With Standard shifting away from lots of ramp, over the top effects, and light removal into a much fairer and more interactive format, The Great Henge gains a ton of value as an almost unbeatable card advantage engine. Whether it is the top end of a more aggressive deck, or the cornerstone of a more midrange Green deck, it is very hard for anyone to beat The Great Henge if it is allowed to stay in play for a turn or two. Lovestruck Beast and the landfall creatures do a great job of enabling it, as frankly it's not hard to find good big Green creatures in this format.
The Great Henge is a major player in this new format, and if you're playing a grindy deck of any kind you must have an answer or you will be overwhelmed.
Remember Dream Trawler?
It feels like so long ago, but when it comes to fair Magic Dream Trawler is a house. For a single mana more you get a Baneslayer Angel that is almost impossible to kill and also draws you cards, which will singlehandedly turn around almost any game that is not hopelessly out of reach.
Dream Trawler was a major feature of the format when it first came out, with Azorius Control being winner of those first few Theros Beyond Death Standard events. However, it fell by the wayside because everything ended up being about Nissa, Who Shakes The World and Wilderness Reclamation. It was also a casualty of decks being able to maindeck Mystical Dispute and didn't always line up well against Hydroid Krasis.
That's not the world we live in anymore.
Dream Trawler is one of the premier threats in the format; once it finds a good home, it will likely be on top once again.
Honorable Mention: Planeswalkers
The planeswalkers in current Standard pale in comparison to the War of the Spark gang that just rotated out of Standard. However, the shift of Standard back to normal and fair Magic bodes extremely well for planeswalkers as a card type. Planeswalkers are the ultimate grind machines, and even if the current legal crop aren't broken there are still plenty of good top end options.
Be aware of which ones are legal and in your colors, while also being ready to kill your opponent's when they inevitably show up!
Dishonorable Mention: Heartless Act
Our last card to discuss today is a sad story of a fall from grace.
Heartless Act is one of the better Doom Blade variants we've gotten in years, but oh boy have the tides turned against it. With The Great Henge being one of the best cards in the format and many of the best Green creatures involving +1/+1 counters, Heartless Act has become a huge liability. You need your removal spells to actually, you know, remove things consistently, and Heartless Act has been doing anything but lately.
It can be a small part of a removal package, but this is your PSA to not rely on Heartless Act as your main source of removal. With the resurgence of planeswalkers and their flexibility, Bloodchief's Thirst and Murderous Rider will often end up being much better choices.
A Whole New World (Again!)
I said it cautiously in my reaction video right after the bans happened, but it's starting to look like we've got a real, lively, and healthy Standard format on our hands. So many cards which were pushed aside are relevant again, while nothing jumps out as oppressively powerful.
It's still early, but this looks to be the healthiest Standard has been in a long time. I can't wait to keep playing and brewing, as just during the writing of this article I've either gotten a number of deck ideas or seen sweet cards I forgot existed that I want to brew around.
I'm excited and you should be too!