Excluding basic lands, 43 of the 249 new cards in Khans of Tarkir have been spoiled. That's 17% of the set, and it's just the tip of the Iceberg. There are many more spoilers to come, but these 43 cards provide a look into what the other 206 cards will look like. We can draw a lot of information from this subset of cards and use it to paint a picture of the new Standard format. Today I'll explain what this set means for the future of Standard, with a focus on the manabase, and I'll share my thoughts on some new cards along the way.
The first thing that stands out to me about the spoilers is the large number of gold cards. Khans of Tarkir is a wedge set focusing on enemy three-color combinations. Khans of Tarkir brings us the BUG Sultai, UWR Jeskai, BWR Mardu, RUG Temur, and BWG Abzan. Each color is used as a base and paired with one enemy color and one ally color to create the wedge. Sultai is black, Jeskai is blue, Mardu is red, Temur is green, and Abzan is white.
Khans of Tarkir is similar to Shards of Alara block, which introduced allied-colored wedges of the color pie: BWU Esper, BRG Jund, WUG Bant, UBR Grixis, and GWR Naya. Shards of Alara block of featured a huge number of gold cards compare to previous sets, and Khans of Tarkir will follow the tradition of focusing on two-color and three-color gold cards.
Gold cards are interesting because they tend to push the upper boundaries of card power level. Mana costs are used to manage the power level of a card, and one way to restrict a card is adding colored mana to the cost. As it goes, a UUU card is harder to cast than a 1UU card which is harder to cast than a 2U card. A UUU card is restricted to only the most blue-heavy decks, while a 2U is quite splashable. Adding a color, 1UR for example, restricts a card into a specific combination of colors. Adding a third color restricts the card to a very specific and narrow color combination, and a deck must jump through hoops to harness the wedge-card's power.
For example, the RUG Temur Ascendancy has a significantly more restrictive cost than the 1RG Fires of Yavimaya, but the additional color brings with it a powerful upside. Blue adds a card drawing ability that gives the card additional scope and dimension. For one, this makes the card snowball much harder than Fires of Yavimaya because threats will replace themselves and make it more likely its controller will never run out of gas.
Giving creatures haste is excellent because it makes creatures much harder to deal with because they don't give the opponent a turn to react, so they are more likely to generate value by dealing damage. Haste also resembles Time Walk for creatures in that they generate an additional turn of value, the real value of creatures is attacking for damage, and creatures with haste get an extra turn of attacking for damage compared to normal creatures. This puts great pressure on the opponent and makes it much less likely they will be able to mount a defense. Haste is also quite valuable in racing situations against damage or a combo.
The snowball value of card drawing combined with the extra turn of pressure generated by haste makes Temur Ascendancy a very practical tool. Fires of Yavimaya was once among the most powerful cards in Standard, and today's world offers a higher-quality creature to leverage, so I expect Temur Ascendancy to see top-tier play.
Temur Ascendancy pairs best with creatures with power four or greater, so it's going to play well with the large creatures of green. It's also great with mana acceleration because it's best with high-powered creatures that are likely to sit up the mana curve. As a three-drop, Temur Ascendancy will be at best cast on turn two, so it plays quite well with one-drop mana acceleration. Fires of Yavimaya was nearly always paired with Birds of Paradise and Llanowar Elves, so in Standard Temur Ascendancy will likely see the most play alongside Elvish Mystic and Yavimaya Coast.
A set focused on gold cards is naturally going to be very powerful. The high power level of individual cards will be a large incentive to play them, and decks will bend over backwards to support them. Deckbuilding may become narrower, and some wedge cards in particular will be used very specifically. On the other hand, two-color gold cards will slot into various wedges. It's also not always clear how to balance the colors of the wedge: will a deck focus on one main color and splash both other sides of the wedge? Should it be built as a two-color deck splashing some wedge cards? An even balance between all three? A single wedge card may be used in multiple different decks with varying color focus, so in this sense gold cards breed innovation.
The wealth of color fixing associated with gold cards will allow for four-color and even five-color decks. One highlight of Shards of Alara block standard was full-fledged five-color-control decks that took advantage of the mana fixing to fuel a selection of the most powerful cards in the format. Standard already has Mana Confluence, the Theros-block scry lands, and the Magic 2015 painlands, so along with a new cycle of three-color wedge trilands and recent spoiling of Onslaught allied-color fetchlands, future Standard will have no shortage of quality mana fixing to enable healthy manabases that push the color boundaries.
An interesting texture to Khans of Tarkir Standard is that each of the allied-color fetchlands finds either side of each enemy-colored guild. For example, Polluted Delta will find either enemy colors of Green, effectively making it the hallmark fetchland of the BUG Sultai.
Here's a handy chart:
Polluted Delta: SultaiFlooded Strand: JeskaiWindswept Heath: AbzanWooded Foothills: TemurBloodstained Mire: Mardu
On the flip side, M15 painlands are enemy colored, which makes them fit into the wedges much differently. Each of the five painlands slot into two wedges a piece, and each wedge gets two painlands to enable either side of its color associations. For example, Llanowar Wastes fixes the green side of Abzan, while Caves of Koilos fixes the white side. Llanowar Waste will also fix the black side of Sultai. That wedge will use Yavimaya Coast to fix its blue side, and that painland will fix the Green side of the Blue-based Temur, which will use Shivan Reef to fix its Red side, and so on for each wedge and painland.
Here's the chart with each wedge and its corresponding painlands added:
Llanowar Wastes, Yavimaya Coast: SultaiShivan Reef, Battlefield Forge: JeskaiCaves of Koilos, Llanowar Wastes: AbzanYavimaya Coast, Shivan Reef: TemurBattlefield Forge, Caves of Koilos: Mardu
Each wedge is fixed by twice as many painlands as fetchlands, and this will be apparent in the average manabase. A sample section of an Abzan manabase might look like:
4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Windswept Heath
Scrylands complicate the matter, and the full set of ten means that each three-color wedge will have access to three scrylands. Using the Abzan manabase as an example, adding a full complement of applicable scrylands would bring the list to:
4 Temple of Plenty4 Temple of Malady4 Temple of Silence4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Windswept Heath
In practice that manabase won't quite work because fetchlands require some number of basic lands to function. Adding a Forest and a Plains to enable Windswept Heath would get the job done, but in practice more basics are ideal because it minimizes the risk of a fetchland being dead. Most decks will not require so many lands as to play all of the fixing along with a healthy number of basics, so most decks will play a mixture of these lands depending on their specific color needs and strategic considerations.
In general fetchlands are more desirable than painlands because they only require an investment of one life compared to the repeated life investment of painlands, so in theory they are the best lands in Standard. Scrylands come with the significant drawback of coming into play tapped, but they provide extra card-selection power with the scry ability. In some small sense fetchlands also help to smooth draws because they thin the deck of lands, but in some mana-light situations this could be seen as a drawback.
Painlands are particularly undesirable for control decks that use their life total as a resource, while scrylands are desirable because they help fix draws in a deck of answers that requires specific cards at specific times.
On the other hand, scrylands are undesirable in aggressive decks with a low curve, especially decks with one-drops, while painlands are desirable because they offer consistent untapped mana and these decks do not utilize their life total resource in most matchups.
It's important to note that each fetchland pairs with a corresponding allied-color scryland, which when used together creates redundancy in the manabase. Some decks will seek this while others will avoid it and it's important to keep in mind. For example, an Abzan deck would be heavy on green and white if they played both Windswept Heath and Temple of Plenty, especially considering that the fetchlands require basics, which also increase the green and white count. A balanced Abzan manabase might look something like this:
4 Temple of Malady4 Temple of Silence4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Windswept Heath2 Plains2 Forest
In this manabase all of the scrylands and painlands produce black, which is relevant for casting double-black spells like Hero's Downfall and Bile Blight.
A wedge-colored deck that is very heavy into its main color and just splashes into a wedge might benefit from eschewing fetchlands and basics altogether in favor of additional scrylands and base-colored basics in order to maximize color count of the base and prevent awkward draws featuring multiple fetchlands and basics that fix a color beyond necessity.
Here's an example:
4 Temple of Plenty4 Temple of Malady4 Temple of Silence4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Swamp
Another possibility is a deck that's focused on two colors of a wedge. One option would be a wedge-core along with one side of the wedge. These decks will stress one side of a fetchland by playing more basics of one color, and it will select its scrylands and painlands accordingly. Here's our Abzan example with a Golgari-tinge:
4 Temple of Malady4 Temple of Silence4 Llanowar Wastes4 Windswept Heath3 Forest1 Plains4 Swamp
4 Temple of Malady4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Windswept Heath3 Forest1 Plains4 Swamp
This could be taken any degree further by reducing white-mana requirements and replacing white-producing lands with more Swamps or Forests.
There's also the possibility that a wedge-deck will be focused on the allied colors of a wedge but splashes Into the Core color. Perhaps unintuitively these decks may have the best manabases of all the Khans of Tarkir wedge decks because they best utilize the fetchlands. Here's our Abzan example applied to a Selesnya-based aggro deck splashing into the black of Abzan:
4 Temple of Plenty4 Llanowar Wastes4 Caves of Koilos4 Windswept Heath4 Plains4 Forest
A practical possibility is a deck learning on one side of a wedge, perhaps with a secondary color and a splash into the wedge. The manabase for a heavy-green Courser of Kruphix-centric Gr Monsters deck splashing for Temur Ascendancy might look something like:
4 Temple of Abandon2 Temple of Mystery4 Shivan Reef4 Yavimaya Coast4 Wooded Foothills4 Forest2 Mountain
My analysis says nothing of the new cycle of three colored trilands, which produce all three colors of a wedge. As come-into-play-tapped lands, trilands will compete with scrylands in manabases. They are more reliable as mana-fixing, but they are less powerful without scry. In a perfect world trilands are unnecessary, and I expect trilands will be used to tune the exact colored mana composition of manabase to more exactly fit the colored requirements of said deck. Overall the trilands further improve the mana of the format and will allow deckbuilders to more precisely construct and tune decks.
My analysis focuses on the Khans of Tarkir wedges, but says nothing of the allied shards. While I assume that decks will be focused on the wedges, the lands in Standard enable the allied shards as well. Allied shard decks are poised to take advantage of any two-color gold cards printed. If cards like Sorin, Solemn Visitor and Sagu Mauler are any indication, then allied-color shard decks will have plenty of tools this fall. These shard decks will be able to take advantage of three different scry lands, two sets of fetchlands, and a specific painland.
The wide accessibility of the relatively few mono-colored cards in Khans of Tarkir will give them a disproportionately large impact on Standard decks. Many of these cards will find themselves in nearly every deck that can support them, and they will serve as a familiar starting pointing in numerous deck archetypes.
End Hostilities stands out to me as a monocolored card that will have a big impact in Standard. One of the key features of Theros block constructed was the lack of unconditional board sweepers. Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow solved specific creatures but did not provide an all-encompassing board wipe like Supreme Verdict. End Hostilities is a boon to control strategies and likely makes white the control color of choice. This seems to be at odds with the Mardu wedge, which so far looks to be among the most aggressive of the wedges. End Hostilities will likely see heavy play in Abzan and Jeskai and make them the control wedges of choice in Standard this fall.
Taking the idea further, existing mono-colored cards from Theros block and Magic 2015 will be particularly valuable deckbuilding tools with a variety of potential homes, so I'd look to them to form the core of any new decks going forward.
More spoilers will be flooding the internet in the coming week, so I'll be back next week with a deeper look into Khans of Tarkir Standard. Share any questions or ideas in the comment section!