If there is one card in Dominaria that is going to change the way Standard is played at a fundamental level, it’s Llanowar Elves.
Hmmm . . .
That statement is both useful and true.
Don’t know what to do about that. But it’s not useful and true and new. Kind of “just” a renaissance of the Standard 1-drop, if you grok?
Let’s try this again.
If there is one card in Dominaria that is going to change the way Standard is played at a fundamental level (in a way that we really haven’t seen before), it’s Lich's Mastery.
There are more than 8 ways that Lich's Mastery can and will change Magic (or at least Standard-style Magic), but we all really love Top 8 lists so that is how I’m going to write the rest of this article.
Table of Contents:
If you’re not ready for Lich’s Mastery, you’re not going to be able to beat Lich’s Mastery
In the summer of 1997 I played a PTQ in Columbus, Ohio.
Gearing up for the second round I walked to the printed pairings and overheard some locals jawing . . .
“Oh my gosh!” one said. “Mike Flores is here!”
“Wow that’s so cool!” Replied his companion. “I wonder if he’ll write a tournament report?”
These were days when all the Magic “reporting” was in plain text, before anyone had a head shot next to his byline; days of greater anonymity.
With a smile on my face at the 1-0 table I sat down against a player who tapped out on turn four for this enchantment:
. . . All had 2 (or fewer) toughness.
In the ensuing weeks Ophidian — with its 3 toughness — would be popularized by future Hall of Famers and Pro Tour Champions. A clunky 4 mana enchantment would be no match for that damnably tough Snake and a couple of Counterspells.
But in Week One?
Unprepared for Aether Flash, I had no ability to interact with it at all. Whereas it interacted with every damn thing I could summon.
No, I did not write a tournament report.
This card is the real deal.
This card is going to change, if not everything, “a lot” of stuff.
And if you’re not ready for it, you may literally (literally-literally, not figuratively-literally) be unable to beat it.
You have been warned.
Lich’s Mastery will change the value of cards you might already want to play
Lich's Mastery is incredibly nuanced. It has layers upon layers of complexity.
If Necropotence changed the fundamental calculus of Magic by equating one life with one card . . . What does Lich's Mastery do? A card in your graveyard has new meaning! A life is a card up; a point of damage is a card is a card is a . . . card in graveyard?
Cheap exchanges offered by cardboard you thought you liked but never quite made the cut before are going to give you oodles of value. What about Renegade Map? Does the speed on Evolving Wilds mean less now?
Prophetic Prism is an interesting one: It helps you draw your mana early on, cantrips you up to what you need for a few turns; then later helps a polychromatic deck hit the to cast Lich's Mastery. When you’re getting hit, post-Mastery it offers up a sacrificial body that has already paid its dues.
Cycling cards — or anything that exchanges one-for-one — are going to be even-more-for-one. Renewed Faith is probably the most important of these. The old tension was between six life — or 2-3 cards against a Red Deck — versus a slight advantage in cards (say essentially one card) plus another card when you cycle. Renewed Faith with Lich's Mastery on the battlefield is potentially problematic, though. Sure, drawing six (while gaining six!) is awesome . . . But what if you have to discard?
How about my favorite game-breaker? How many copies of Authority of the Consuls will you be willing to start? If it’s me? All of them.
Lich’s Mastery lacks the limitations of historical black flagship enchantments
You don’t go down to 0 life when you cast this.
You don’t give up your draw step.
Flush with extra cards, lousy with card advantage, there is no prohibition on how many cards you can play per turn, or where they go when you’re done with them.
Lich's Mastery presents a universe of card advantageous possibility, unfettered by the limitations of older Black flagships.
Every time I have an idea, I have to check myself . . . No, no . . . I actually do still get my draw step! I know this already, but it’s like a surprise every time I run another idea down. YOU MEAN I STILL GET ACCESS TO MY GRAVEYARD? See? I did it again.
You’ll be surprised at how often someone will just tap out for Lich’s Mastery on turn six and you won’t be able to win.
This isn’t even so hard to imagine.
You take your fifth turn, truck with everyone. Settle the Wreckage. Damn. Inside the possible range (almost by definition) . . . But, damn. You’re out for now.
His eyes narrow.
Yeah. Yeah, you’re done.
Untap, six, Lich's Mastery?
What are you supposed to do about that?
It would be one thing if Lich's Mastery reduced you to zero; or forced you to give up your draw step. But this way? Even from no cards in hand YOU MIGHT JUST RIP A RENEWED FAITH. How crazy is that?
Moment of Craving and Vraska's Contempt were already good enough to play due to Not-Ramunap Red and The Scarab God. Fumigate was already a format Staple. Now what is it supposed to be? Fumigate . . . Really? It’s some kind of Stroke of Genius.
If you don’t have a lead on the battlefield, you can easily just lose to sixth land, Lich's Mastery, nothing else. Few decks that play this expensive enchantment are not going to be loaded up with removal. And as already mentioned — Moment of Craving, Vraska's Contempt, Fumigate, and others — some of that removal is absolutely absurd during the Lich's Mastery sub-game portion of a duel. They re-fuel their caster, if nothing else.
Once-fringe Sideboard cards are going to suddenly shine
Go back a second and look at the August 6, 2017 version of Approach of the Second Sun that Dan Ward used to debut the deck at GP Minneapolis.
See something stick out a little bit?
Or how about Christian Hauck’s Temur Energy from the Top 8 of PT Ixalan?
Something small in the sideboard that might catch your fancy?
I’ll let you Google those deck lists a second instead of just linking them. For serious. Go on . . .
Did you see what I was getting at? With Dan’s deck? Or Christian’s?
River's Rebuke has been an on-again / off-again tool of various Blue creature decks . . . But never that popular.
Both cards are poised to make their respective comebacks.
Attacking with creatures is fine. Defending against creatures is basically what any Lich's Mastery board control deck is already going to be able to do. What else are you going to do? THE CARD HAS HEXPROOF. Getting up there with Chandra is going to be a long, slow, slog. I’m not convinced you can keep pace with the opposing graveyard that way. Not when like every Lich's Mastery deck is going to play Vraska's Contempt.
There are at least five different compelling Lich’s Mastery shells -- in five different color combinations!
Off the top of my head:
None of those are tested. All of them are just off the top of my head. Every one seems like it would be a potential contender. And that says something.
Surprise! It’s Lich’s Mastery :(
Every part of this article so far has been about a so-called “Lich's Mastery deck” . . . But what if you weren’t playing one?
What if you were just playing “a” deck?
What would happen if — SURPRISE! — you just played a Lich's Mastery in your otherwise-identifiable deck?
I posited a B/W removal deck in the preceding section; reading this article you probably know that is largely my favorite so far. What if you just sideboarded Lich's Mastery in a (or Esper, or Abzan) Tokens deck?
How about Arguel's Blood Fast? How about investing the first 14 or so life with absolutely no consequences?
Imagine you are [WHATEVER] deck. Your opponent taps out for the first Approach of the Second Sun in Game 2. While his shields are down you casually play your sideboard six.
CAN HE EVEN WIN ANY MORE?
The answer is probably just “no” straight up; which leaves us with . . .
Lich’s Mastery will either slap the face or shake the hand of Approach of the Second Sun . . . But which?
A conventional Approach of the Second Sun deck literally can’t beat this card in play in Game 1. It has Hexproof! If they don’t counter it on the way down, there are basically no ways around it. Deck them with Ipnu Rivulet? Sure . . . Except drawing extra cards doesn’t cost a Lich's Mastery player the game.
Those with a couple of Torrential Gearhulks main are obviously going to be in better shape . . . Which isn’t to say good shape. If there is one thing I am confident a Lich's Mastery player can do, it’s to kill a 6-drop. Somehow.
The same goes more-or-less for Regal Caracal after sideboarding. More-or-less . . . Which is just to say the conventional Approach player will not lose 100% of the time. None of these are encouraging words.
Slap in the face, yeah?
But what about from the other side?
Read Approach of the Second Sun: How many cards do you draw? And from where? When?
Shake dat hand, yeah?
That’s my Top 8!