When you think about card advantage engine cards for in the current Standard format... It would be kind of weird if anything came to mind before Scapeshift. I mean, Scapeshift is possibly the most important strategy in the format, and certainly the flashiest way to make a lot of 2/2 token creatures (not to mention digging for actual incremental cardboard).
But it's not the only one; and I'd hazard that when the dust settles, it might not be the most widely influential.
Let's dial it back to this wily Wolf:
Nightpack Ambusher is as flexible as it is Flash-y. While best known for its contributions to Simic Flash, because it doesn't rely on any specific synergies or interactions, Nightpack Ambusher can contribute to a variety of strategies successfully.
Gruul Midrange | Core Set 2020 Standard | xfile, 5-0 Magic Online League
- Creatures (28)
- 4 Gruul Spellbreaker
- 4 Hungering Hydra
- 4 Llanowar Elves
- 4 Marauding Raptor
- 4 Nightpack Ambusher
- 4 Ripjaw Raptor
- 4 Voracious Hydra
To me, this deck is really strange.
It plays mostly at sorcery speed (so does not even get the most out of Nightpack Ambusher). And more than that, the interaction between sweet 2-drop Marauding Raptor and sweet 4-drop Nightpack Ambusher is a potential (though admittedly not overly practical) non-bo!
And it still went 5-0 in the July 22 League!
Nightpack Ambusher, my friends.
What does it mean to get the most out of this flashy Wolf?
Nightpack Ambusher is a self-contained card advantage engine, regardless of strategy. Whenever your opponents attack into an open , they are risking a one-for-two (or even worse, a zero-for-one) exchange. Say a hapless Viashino Pyromancer, it of the fairly inoffensive 2/1 body [that has already got its money] comes in...
Nightpack Ambusher can appear out of nowhere and jump in its way. Unless the Red Deck opponent has two instant speed removal spells (already a one-for-two), that scaly Wizard is going to get chomped. Sure, they can have a follow up Shock, but the card advantage has already been lost.
If the opponent doesn't have a burn spell? The other card advantage switch will flip on, and that is even more troublesome.
This might be easier to illustrate in a specific context:
Sultai Flash | Core Set 2020 Standard | rapidluis08, 5-0 Magic Online League
- Creatures (20)
- 4 Brineborn Cutthroat
- 4 Dire Fleet Poisoner
- 4 Frilled Mystic
- 4 Nightpack Ambusher
- 4 Spectral Sailor
- Instants (16)
- 1 Negate
- 2 Assassin's Trophy
- 2 Cast Down
- 2 Syncopate
- 2 Tyrant's Scorn
- 3 Essence Scatter
- 4 Lookout's Dispersal
- Lands (24)
- 1 Island
- 3 Drowned Catacomb
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Hinterland Harbor
- 4 Overgrown Tomb
- 4 Watery Grave
- 4 Woodland Cemetery
This updated Ambusher deck adds Dire Fleet Poisoner to the mix, essentially replacing the one slow spell in the Simic build's original main.
There is not a single spell in the starting sixty that doesn't play at instant speed!
An unaware opponent will just play into rapidluis08's mana, ideally opening up for favorable exchanges. Leave your mana open; answer with cheap counterspells, etc.
An actually aware opponent, though, risks giving up...
1. Virtual Card Advantage
If you're afraid of a bad exchange and do nothing... You get no return on your mana, and it kind of doesn't matter how many cards you have in hand if you refuse to use them.
The Sultai Flash deck wants to pass with its mana open every turn, so no problem! If you do nothing [on your own turn], ostensibly ceding your mana, it can play one of its many threats (Nightpack Ambusher or one of sixteen or so others) and NOT return the favor.
Incidentally the kind of situation you want to avoid the most is playing a card that costs three or more as your only spell, and being caught with two spells. For example if you have four but spend three on a Goblin Chainwhirler, the opponent could, say, cast a Brineborn Cutthroat in response and an Essence Scatter; strand you for one mana, and buff the Merfolk Pirate permanently.
At five mana all these Flash decks have the option of Spectral Sailor with four mana open; which is a Whispers of the Muse-like effect that both 1) costs one less, and 2) actually puts a threat in play.
We've already started talking about the most explicit form of card advantage you get from Nightpack Ambusher:
2. Cardboard Advantage
The most obvious to see kind of card advantage occurs any time you use less cardboard to trade with more cardboard from the opponent. So if the opponent attacks with a creature that is smaller than 4/4, you cast Nightpack Ambusher to block, and they need to use another piece of cardboard to finish it off... That is a very clear to see advantage in specifically cardboard; no imaginary card utility; no nickels or pennies getting pushed around the middle of the table.
Worse is if you just mug their smaller creature and keep your article-headlining Nightpack Ambusher, of course.
Now you'll need to actually untap with your 4/4 Wolf on the battlefield to cash in the signature advantage of this card:
3. Token Creation
Nightpack Ambusher is an interesting little study in traditional Magic KPIs. Is a 2/2 token an infinite return on zero mana, or an awful return on the opportunity to tap four or more mana?
In a properly designed deck (the above Sultai or more traditional Simic; less so that Marauding Raptor deck), the 2/2 tokens are kind of free. Not only can you play at the opponent's end step with little penalty, at the point that you untap with Nightpack Ambusher, your game plan probably changes anyway.
There are three main things you can do with a permission spell:
Playing Blue Nightpack Ambusher decks is like taking a quick tour of Magic strategy and history.
As with most things that are fun or cool, there is one card that takes a lot of the fun out of Nightpack Ambusher:
So what happens when you play Teferi yourself?
Nightpack Control | Core Set 2020 Standard | mcnuggets7, 5-0 Magic Online League
- Creatures (4)
- 4 Nightpack Ambusher
- Sorceries (2)
- 2 Time Wipe
- Lands (25)
- 2 Island
- 2 Sunpetal Grove
- 2 Temple of Mystery
- 3 Hinterland Harbor
- 4 Breeding Pool
- 4 Glacial Fortress
- 4 Hallowed Fountain
- 4 Temple Garden
This deck is what really opened my eyes about Nightpack Ambusher. The 4/4 Wolf is the only creature in the deck!
There are some slow or setup cards here. Narset actually makes more sense to me as a three mana Planeswalker than Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer.
First off, this deck can play multiple game plans. It can play cardboard advantage-into-Protect the Queen kind of like Simic Flash; it can play a Teferi game like most of the Azorius-adjacent decks if it just doesn't draw a Wolf; unless you're playing an open deck lists event you can even waltz the opponent into thinking you're one of several different possible decks, luring them into tentativeness or overreach.
But in addition to sometimes aping Simic's Wolf play, this deck can simply milk the opponent for tons of time as well.
Imagine you have a Nightpack Ambusher. Your opponent has some creature not big enough to beat your Wolf. They have to play more guys out. But they have to play out at least enough guys to breach your
2/2 3/3 Wolves. That's often not a small ask. You don't actually need to beat their threats with your Wolf tokens; you just need to not get hit while making Wolf tokens to stay even or better.
So imagine they have something enormous, like a Gigantosaurus... As 10/10 as that Dinosaur is, it doesn't get past a Wolf token.
In sum, the opponent will be forced to commit additional material - beyond a 10/10 that is supposed to be the biggest creature between the collective one hundred twenty - while you just get to sit there blocking for free. Any time you have free mana, you not only get to make more Wolves, but you get to cast Chemister's Insight. So much card advantage!
But the poor opponent will have to make a push at some point, or inevitably lose. That's where this deck is so awesome.
It plays Time Wipe.
So in the perfect world, you get a zero-for-one with the Ambusher; sit behind the Ambusher to milk time while the opponent commits cardboard.
Then Time Wipe zeroes all their stuff and resets your Ambusher.
Even better are sideboarded games where you can Time Wipe at instant Speed! But the principles are the same either way.
I'm most interested in seeing where decks like mcnuggets7's go; because we've barely scratched the surface of what I consider the most interesting creature in Standard.