Recently I have entered the mode that I often get into before a big tournament, where I play a ton of Magic and try out a lot of the new cards. The 25th anniversary Pro Tour is on the horizon and this is a motivation to test multiple formats, but most of all Standard. Standard is a place where there is constant movement, and nothing is as it seems. I want to talk about cards that have performed above expectations in the early going of the new Standard format.
A green two-drop that on the surface doesn't seem like anything amazing – the stats here aren't off the charts, which is why it wasn't obvious right away how much play this would see. Now it is becoming more apparent that almost any green midrange deck should at least consider playing this card. It is a huge road block against red decks that are trying to fight with removal spells like Abrade and Lightning Strike.
Oftentimes the Red decks are forced to point a removal spell at your two-mana creature in order to force through damage in the early game, and netting the Elf token can help soak up damage even if it ends up just being a chump blocker. This is another two-drop that can be played alongside Merfolk Branchwalker, or even instead of it. Let's take a look at a new take on Red-Green Monsters.
In the past months, the Monsters-style green decks have primarily been focused around getting a Ghalta, Primal Hunger into play, and being mostly mono-green. The Ghalta decks are a potential home for Thorn Lieutenant, but they are far from the only home. This Red-Green Monsters deck was quite popular before Ixalan, and could easily make a resurgence. Being able to main deck Magma Spray is actually a pretty big game in the format right now, as there are many decks and creatures that hurt specifically from being exiled. This is a great way to get ahead of an opponent leading on Scrapheap Scrounger or relying on Champion of Wits.
Besides Thorn Lieutenant, there are a few other cards that deserve honorable mentions here. Banefire is another burn spell red decks have access to and is particularly strong later on in games when it can become a Fireball. Against decks like White-Blue Control, it gives you a way to utilize excess lands given to you from Settle the Wreckage and win games you might not otherwise be able to. Banefire is a card that various red midrange decks will seriously consider playing, and it makes sense to see it here.
The other honorable mention goes to Vine Mare. Hexproof creatures are pretty rare these days, so having this as an option against decks with lots of spot removal is great. It also attacks past The Scarab God and comes in against decks like Grixis Control where the fact it attacks past black creatures is very relevant. This card seeing play just goes to show how powerful hexproof cards are, and why Wizards doesn't print very many anymore.
Here we have a two-drop flyer that on the surface doesn't seem amazing based on stats. We are used to our two-power flyers having an upside, think Selfless Spirit. So how relevant is the ability for Remorseful Cleric's ability to sacrifice itself and exile the opponent's graveyard? Turns out it is very relevant and in fact it single-handedly wrecks one of the top strategies in Standard – God-Pharaoh's Gift decks are running rampant at the moment. These decks often have very few ways to actually remove Remorseful Cleric from the battlefield.
Being able to respond to a Refurbish by exiling Remorseful Cleric is huge. This is normally going to be a game-winning play alongside other cards to pressure the opponent. Even better though is stopping a Gate to the Afterlife with Remorseful Cleric. Those versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift are looking to get six creatures into the graveyard, and with a Remorseful Cleric in play that is virtually impossible. The card is a solid beater with a big upside.
The fact that it does die to Goblin Chainwhirler is why initially it wasn't obvious how much play Remorseful Cleric would see. Red decks are still very much present in Standard, and that is a reason you might want to sideboard the Remorseful Clerics rather than playing them main. We also are seeing a bit of Remorseful Cleric in other formats, even in Legacy Death and Taxes decks. Remorseful Cleric is also a Spirit, so Spirits tribal decks should at least consider it.
However, it will see the most play in Standard, this is a list that makes really good use Remorseful Cleric coming out of the sideboard.
Militia Bugler is going to be amazing in a deck with lots or even all two-power creatures. This is going to make it so that you are very likely to be able to get value off the Militia Bugler, and its trigger upon entering the battlefield. The two-power explore creatures go nicely alongside Militia Bugler, and it makes perfect sense to have this in a green-white deck.
The payoffs for getting lots of small creatures into play are clear, as the noncreature spells are really strong once you are able to build a board. Appeal // Authority and Ajani, Adversary of Tyrants can close games out rather quickly. Remorseful Cleric is in the sideboard and there are four copies, so it is very likely when they do get brought in you will either draw one or be able to find one off a Militia Bugler.
Supplier is one of the main reasons we are seeing a wider variety of God-Pharaoh's Gift decks doing well. Stitcher's Supplier is a great way to get lots of card in your graveyard and open the door for Gate to the Afterlife versions of God-Pharaoh's Gift to be major players in the metagame. This card naturally moves away from the White-Blue Refurbish version we are used to. There are arguments to be made for many different color pairs, and here's a black-green version.
When first looking at this deck it might appear to be Black-Green Constrictor, except there are no Winding Constrictors to be found. Instead we have a bunch of good-stuff style creatures alongside Stitcher's Supplier. The explore mechanic is another useful way to fill up the graveyard, which is why we see so many explore creatures. This helps to turn on Gate to the Afterlife. The deck has the capability of simply beating the opponent down without getting a God-Pharaoh's Gift into play, though with cards like Verdurous Gearhulk to target with God-Pharaoh's Gift it is quite easy to win games from there.
Like many others, I initially wasn't sure what to expect from the planeswalkers from this set. However, it turns out there are artifact decks where Tezzeret, Artifice Master flourishes. Its ability to draw two cards a turn can be made possible pretty easily, and that kind of card advantage ends games in a hurry. Of course, the high loyalty count and the ability to tick up in order to churn out artifacts is also really important.
Tezzeret goes well alongside Karn, Scion of Urza, as both have the ability to generate artifacts, and if you get both on the battlefield together things get out of hand. Karn, Scion of Urza is similar in that it is a planeswalker that both synergizes with artifacts and is still good on its own.
Fountain of Renewal looks pretty underwhelming when you first look at it. A one-mana artifact that slowly can gain a little bit of life initially seemed like a worse version of Sun Droplet. However, being a one-mana artifact is incredibly important as this is a deck that wants its artifacts to be as cheap as possible, and we see cards like Renegade Map and Prophetic Prism as other cheap artifact enabler cards. Fountain of Renewal is also fine later in the game because you can cash it in for a card.
The other card that is great alongside artifacts is one I am a big fan of Sai, Master Thopterist. It should be no surprise to see Sai here, as this is pretty much a must-answer threat when cast on turn three. Having the extra Thopters in play make both the planeswalkers and your Herald of Anguish better. This deck pretty much has all you could ask for from an artifact midrange deck, there is even room for a bit of generic spot removal like Fatal Push and Vraska's Contempt.
Sarkhan, Fireblood got very little hype when initially spoiled, despite being a three-mana planeswalker, which traditionally have a ton of potential due to being able to get them on the board so early. The loot effect is easy to underestimate, but is actually really strong in the right deck. Some decks actively benefit from the ability to put cards into the graveyard. The other primary ability is a bit tricky, though. Being able to tick up for two mana is awesome, but the question is if can you actually play other Dragons in order to make this effect worth it.
Glorybringer is the easy one, we already know how strong that card is, and Sarkan, Fireblood allows it to come down on turn four, but it's not the only Dragon making an appearance.
First of all the deck is Grixis, which means of course we are splashing for Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. There are a bunch of Grixis decks of different varieties seeing play now, and Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is the primary reason why. Bolas is also a Dragon, and the fact Sarkhan, Fireblood can produce any combination of colors makes the blue splash easier.
The last dragon is Demanding Dragon. This card doesn't have quite the same amount of raw power as Glorybringer but is still plenty good enough. Notably, in a head to head battle Demanding Dragon wins the fight. A lot of the time the opponent will be forced to get Lava Axe'd immediately as keeping creatures in play against red decks with lots of removal isn't the easiest task.
Thanks for reading,