With Temur Reclamation continuing to dominate Standard, the question of endgames is largely solved. Unless something gets banned or Core Set 2021 brings with it something even more ludicrous, Wilderness Reclamation is likely the premier endgame of Standard.
What I'm focused on instead in this preview season is cheap engines: synergy or card advantage pieces that come down early, the build-arounds of new archetypes. At the time I'm writing this M21 has six such cards previewed. Here they are in alphabetical order:
A Squadron Hawk look-alike, Alpine Houndmaster is capable of drawing two cards immediately, though they're both unexciting cards for Constructed. However, we've played unexciting 2/2s with card advantage before. Legion Conquistador was a lot less exciting than this, even if it chained together better.
Alpine Houndmaster has a cost of putting several unexciting two-drops into your deck, but unlike Squadron Hawk or Legion Conquistador it has a much better body. The Houndmaster is capable of attacking for solid damage on curve without additional mana investment, and extra bodies are still extra bodies.
I don't know if this makes it over the border between excellent Limited card and Constructed role-player, but I wouldn't be shocked to see Alpine Houndmaster and Alpine Watchdog on the ladder next set.
Conclave Mentor is the most obviously powerful of these engines. Winding Constrictor and Hardened Scales have taught us to respect that top line of text, and the second ability is just a pleasant bonus.
Getting access to this effect without splashing black allows for new builds of Pioneer and Modern decks built around +1/+1 counters. I'm excited for it there, but there are a few cards in Standard that are happy to have a new friend too. Venerated Loxodon, Unbreakable Formation and Pelt Collector are all incredibly synergistic with Conclave Mentor, and I'll be building multiple decks around that core.
Goblin combo decks built around Experimental Frenzy were already on the edge of reasonable, and now Experimental Frenzy is just attached to a Goblin. Oh, and you get to keep using your hand.
This card is mostly exciting in Modern, where it goes infinite with Boggart Harbinger tutoring up Kiki-Jiki, Mirror Breaker. In Standard there are actually a decent number of Goblins, but the payoffs are a lot more fair, and none of them are castable off of Conspicuous Snoop other than Grumgully, the Generous. Icon of Ancestry and Domri, Anarch of Bolas are both potential rewards for Goblin tribal, but it remains to be seen if there are enough reasons to step away from more traditional red aggro builds.
Griffin Aerie comes down very early, dodges creature removal, slips under Elspeth Conquers Death, and isn't reset by Teferi, Time Raveler. This all sounds really promising, but the trigger condition is restrictive. Three life is relatively easy to come by once or twice with both Food tokens and Uro, Titan of Nature's Wrath in the format, but getting multiple triggers requires a lot of enablers. The life gain must occur on your turn, meaning you're only ever getting a single 2/2 every turn cycle even if you build your entire deck around it.
This all comes out to a pretty mediocre card as a build-around, but this isn't the only card we've seen trigger in the end step via life gain. Silversmote Ghoul makes this look like a Limited archetype people can consistently build around, so if we get a pushed card or two all these mediocre cards might add up to a strong deck.
Jolrael, Mwonvuli Recluse is small, and the tokens don't fly, but the trigger condition is much better than that of Griffin Aerie. Drawing extra cards is something we strive for naturally in Magic, and cards like Growth Spiral, Opt and Chemister's Insight are all Standard staples, to say nothing of cycling.
A lot of people are going to sleep on this card, but I would not be surprised to see it in a cycling aggro deck or as a sideboard card in decks like Temur Reclamation as a way to pressure Teferi, Time Raveler while dodging Elspeth Conquers Death and Mystical Dispute.
This card looks dangerous. A mana discount on a good body that also rewards you for emptying your hand? This card is going to kill a lot of people and be absolutely absurd in multiples. "Fliers" decks have hovered around viability but have ultimately been too inconsistent for their power level. While M21 looks like it won't bring any consistency to aggressive manabases, Watcher of the Spheres is absolutely power worth sacrificing for.
This is another card that skyrockets the power level of niche-viable archetypes. Mono-White Life Gain is a deck I played to Mythic a few months back. It was close to breaking through but needed one more good payoff for life gain outside of Ajani's Pridemate and Ajani, Strength of the Pride. 4/4 Angel tokens are definitely a payoff.
While this is a vulnerable creature, costing only one mana mitigates that cost a lot. Your opponents will almost always have to trade down on tempo to answer this card, and it's another must-answer alongside Ajani's Pridemate. Stressing their removal early on with multiple must-kill threats is a recipe for a good groan test. Cycling has been highly successful in the previous Standard by presenting its own set of groan tests, and Mono-White Life Gain has the potential to do the same.
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By the time this article comes out I'll almost certainly have missed a new card or three, but that's preview season. Once the full preview comes out I'll be building my usual giant pile of decks over on Twitter. This week is also my sponsored stream week over on Twitch thanks to Wizards of the Coast. My past stream on Monday and tomorrow's stream on Thursday will be benefiting The Bail Project, so please help out on Tiltify if you can.