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Measuring the Memories

So . . . 

Like half of Dominaria has been spoiled. Depending on your perspective that is either awesome or awful. It’s awesome for people who want more time to think about new (or returning) cards and new deck ideas; it’s awful because it messes up the content rollout over at the Mother Ship and makes the lives of hard working Marketing and Editorial folks that much harder.

But how about that “returning” bit?

One of the things we learned with Dominaria’s many spoiled spells is how g-d nostalgic it is. Did you love Time Spiral? I sure did! Right out of the gate, I won the 2006 New York State Championships when Time Spiral became legal in Standard, closing out opponents with cards like Fortune Thief (a nostalgic update to Ali From Cairo).

Dominaria is, in a sense, like Time Spiral 2K18. It has great new cards and concepts, sure; but it draws against the rich tapestry of Magic’s oeuvre with both obvious reprints and blatant, crinkly-smiling, winks. We might not know what the next stage in Standard, Modern, or Legacy* looks like, but we can certainly assess some of the reprints and near-reprints with the lens of history.

What do you think?

Let’s give it a go!

Dauntless Bodyguard

Dauntless Bodyguard is an update to the “2/1 for w” template that we’ve seen starting with Savannah Lions. New card? Sure. Echo of one of the classics? Obviously.

There have been some good, really good, 2/1 creatures for w; this one is a powerful contender for best ever . . .  At least in-context. Sometimes Dauntless Bodyguard will be your first drop. It’s “only” as good as a card that was too good to print for half a decade. But what about when it’s your third creature? Or you have two copies?

Dauntless Bodyguard will absolutely destroy board control decks. Not only does it contribute to the beatdown, it can let you hyper-overcommit against Sweltering Suns or Fumigate.

Outlook: Constructed Staple

Blink of an Eye

When I put ur Spinter Twin on the map at the 2011 TCGPlayer $5k, I played this card Mana Leak.

Three copies.

I also played this card Into the Roil.

Four copies!

Implication: I would rather draw an Into the Roil than a Mana Leak.

You would be shocked at how many games I just bounced a Squadron Hawk or Stoneforge Mystic with Into the Roil (no kicker). I ate mana and set myself up for a future win . . .  Just had to avoid falling too far behind on the battlefield.

Blink of an Eye is very Very VERY similar to Into the Roil.

As such, I anticipate it being extraordinarily popular in Standard. I would, for example, love to play this card in wu Approach of the Second Sun, either as a thematic supplement to Cast Out or as a potential replacement in a Torrential Gearhulk version.

It can interact with Gideon of the Trials or steal time from any Planeswalker right before it hits its limit break. It can lift one of those annoying White enchantments mid-combat, and answer a turn two Search for Azcanta time-wise if not inevitability-wise.

All in all, this card will score a four-of in your best deck in the Blink of an Eye.

Outlook: Constructed Staple

Goblin Warchief and Siege-Gang Commander

I listed these guys together because that’s where they’ve always belonged. Both are centerpiece cards; one is an enabler, the other a payoff.

The “payoff” isn’t even that far in the future, though. You can run out a Goblin Warchief on turn three and attack for two . . .  And then on turn four — the very next turn — you can play Siege-Gang Commander due to the cost reduction and smash for essentially half the opponent’s life total!

If Goblins is viable in Standard (and it looks like there are good tools already), both these cards are going to be heavily adopted. Four of + some-number-of in every single Goblins deck (could easily be 4 + 4).

Outlook: Constructed Flagship

Skizzik

There were nineteen Skizziks in the Top 8 of Pro Tour Tokyo 2001, its debut big show. Nineteen! While multiple rg decks played one in the sideboard poker savant + celebrity chef Dave Williams just ran the three in his main deck.

Skizzik is a versatile card, but there is hefty competition at both the four and the five.

One thing that is great about Skizzik is its ability to immediately fight a Planeswalker. For example, if the opponent plays Chandra, Torch of Defiance on turn four and then takes her up to five, you can spend your Skizzik to immediately destroy it. If you went first, you can even keep the Skizzik!

Is Skizzik better than Glorybringer? No.

Can you play Glorybringer on 4 mana? Also no.

Skizzik’s “ability” to go to the graveyard by its lonesome is actually advantageous for some strategies. For example, the aforementioned Williams would sometimes play Skizzik on 4 mana, let it die, and then re-buy with Crypt Angel the following turn.

Outlook: Constructed Role Player

Gaea’s Blessing

Gaea's Blessing was a card that changed all the rules.

Multiple of the greatest deck designers of all time played strategies that only won with Gaea's Blessing. They recycled their control elements over and over, building advantage after impenetrable advantage, even ensuring they hit land drops from the early turns. The most extreme versions played only control cards — permission, removal, maybe a little life gain — where Gaea's Blessing doubled as card draw and victory condition.

Exhausting the opponent’s library with Gaea's Blessing was the only non-land way to win in Jon Finkel’s first PT Top 8 deck. It was the finisher in the Brian Schneider / Bill Macey multicolored control deck that Qualified like every soul who sleeved it up.

And of course, it demolished — at no cost of cards or mana — every last hapless Millstone mage in the Control bracket.

I’m a little leery about Gaea's Blessing dominating Standard this time around. The creatures are just too good and too plentiful . . .  But I can certainly see it being a contributor. There are some decks that just dominate the numbers in other decks. They have more creature suppression than the opponent has creatures, say; Gaea's Blessing, a card that replaces itself, can put you in a position where you can’t be overwhelmed by such numbers.

Remember: You can target the opponent’s graveyard with Gaea's Blessing! You know how some folks go completely sideways to interact with The Scarab God? Gaea's Blessing can really help you out against stuff like God-Pharaoh's Gift and even Torrential Gearhulk in a pinch.

Its cost is low. It replaces itself. It will be a player. A role player.

Outlook: Constructed Role Player

Llanowar Elves

One half nostalgia, one half completely badass, Llanowar Elves seems poised to be the most powerful card in Standard.

Number One!

Llanowar Elves, and its descendents Fyndhorn Elves and Elvish Mystic, its cousins Birds of Paradise, Noble Hierarch, and Deathrite Shaman; have all contributed to iconic decks over Magic’s 25+ year history.

The last time “this” card (Elvish Mystic) was legal in Standard, it powered out second turn copies of Courser of Kruphix, casually won a Pro Tour, and generally struck fear into the hearts of men from turn one.

I can’t wait to see what the old pro does this time around.

Outlook: Constructed Flagship

Thorn Elemental

It may surprise you that Thorn Elemental put up an undefeated record (5-0-1 counts as undefeated, right?) at the 1999 World Championships.

Not from being hard-cast, mind you; but as part of an Oath of Druids package. If you don’t actually have to spend 7 mana on your Thorn Elemental, I suppose it is a pretty good racer, winning in 3, or potentially 2 attacks (depending on how the Oaths go).

In the absence of a sick engine, Thorn Elemental has some problems. While 7/7 for 7 mana with a quasi-evasion ability isn’t terrible on its face, there are just higher impact things you can play for that much mana. No hexproof / regeneration / etc. makes this an easy mark for Cast Down, Unlicensed Disintegration, or Cast Out. Verdict . . . 

Outlook: Constructed Unplayable

Verdant Force

Jamie Wakefield largely made his reputation as a deck designer on the back of Verdant Force; or rather, Natural Order into Verdant Force. While Jamie was initially misunderstood (the presence of quality spot removal like Swords to Plowshares limited the strength of this play) he was ultimately successful in winning a Pro Tour Qualifier with his signature deck.

Perhaps more importantly, Jamie’s engine eventually helped Mike Turian make the Top 8 of the World Championship, and inspired this writer to pen a series of articles claiming he was “right about everything”. Verdant Force had further success in Reanimator decks, specifically as an Entomb-bullet against Black removal of the “Edict” class rather than the “Terror” class.

Why?

If you have a Verdant Force going, your tokens can protect your biggest guy from Edict-like removal effects. Further, it can create an army of defenders to keep you alive against fast Red Decks. While it took a lot of work (and sometimes multiple cards), a Verdant Force in play was often the harbinger to a winning game.

Today, though?

I’d have to see some kind of cheatyface engine before I got behind THE BEST FATTY EVER PRINTED. There are just some other fatties that are easier to get into play, or more impactful, or more resilient, these days. Like Thorn Elemental, I think Verdant Force is more for putting a smile on a longtime player’s face than a frown on the opponent’s. Contrasting fatty? Baneslayer Angel.

Outlook: Constructed Unplayable (at least sans-engine)

Icy Manipulator

In the mid-to-late 1990s, there were few cards as influential as Icy Manipulator.

Icy Manipulator was responsible for any number of important innovations, but two in particular come to mind.

  1. Mike Donais at Canadian Nationals — While Swords to Plowshares returned to Standard with a reverse-rotation of Ice Age, Mike Donais didn’t play it in his wu Control deck. Instead, he played Icy Manipulator; Icy Manipulator could counter a single big threat, forcing the opponent to commit multiple significant threats to the battlefield. This ensured Mike’s Wrath of God would get two-for-one (or better) with greater regularity . . .  And he would have an untapped Icy Manipulator for the next threat. Ingenious!
  2. Icy Manipulator was part of the lock engine in Jon Finkel’s 1997 Extended Prison deck. Jon could lock down the opponent with a combination of Icy Manipulators (ideally two or more), and Winter Orb. The opponent would be severely slowed down, and have to commit more and more lands to play . . .  Waltzing right into an Armageddon! This was Jon’s first Pro Tour Top 8. First of many!

Unfortunately, it looks like a hostile universe for Icy Manipulator these days. For one thing, Standard is a rough world for artifacts. Abrade is a four-of in many decks — and given Icy Manipulator’s cost — Cast Out and some of the other White enchantments can interact successfully.

Awesome from a nostalgia standpoint, less so from a playability one.

Outlook: Constructed Unplayable

Juggernaut

Did you know Juggernaut was banned on the first day Extended was made a legal format, back in July 1997 (though it was un-banned by October 1998)? Juggernaut!

While big Jugs was at one point seen in Vintage due to the popularity of engines like Mishra's Workshop, a 5/3 creature for four mana is just not going to be competitive at that curve point in Standard. It is not just that there is too much competition (I mean, compare this card to Skizzik), it’s that it is just too easy to interact with.

It wasn’t so long ago that Dissenter's Deliverance was a Staple in Green decks. Abrade, Lightning Strike, and countless other cards interact profitably with Jugs, saving mana on the one-for-one. Separately? Juggernaut has been reprinted repeatedly since its Extended banning, in Mirrodin, in not only Mirrodin but a number of Core Sets; never in that time did it crack a Constructed Top 8.

Outlook: Constructed Unplayable.

LOVE

MIKE


*Patrick Chapin actually has a pretty good idea on this one, over on this week’s Top Level Podcast. I’ll give you a hint: If you’re trying to play the new Squee fair-like, you’re doing it wrong. Ba-roken.


Dominaria is Now Available for Preorder!