New sets like Magic Origins provide a large, satisfying portion of new deckbuilding fodder to chew on, but may prove hard to fully digest. Learning to intuitively and efficiently evaluate new cards isn't an easy skill to master, but it is a journey well worth the effort. When analyzing a new set, expert deckbuilders assess various qualities of each card to determine its potential in a Constructed format. Today I will shine light on some of the qualities that deck builders look for. Along the way, I will apply these concepts to new Magic Origins spoilers, and because there is nothing better than putting cards to the test on the table, I'll share some decklists that provide examples of how these new cards could be used.
Efficiency is a measure of how powerful or impactful a card is relative to its mana cost. It can be represented with the equation:
Power Level / Mana Cost = Efficiency
Measuring the mana cost of a card is easy, but determining power level is more complex. The best place to start is with the numbers. Power/Toughness is the basic power level measure of a creature; creatures that have a higher ratio of power/toughness to mana cost relative to other creatures in the format are said to be efficient, and they will see Constructed play. Some spells are easy to quantify: burn spells are measured by how much damage they do and card drawing spells are measured by how many cards they draw.
The basic way of determining efficiency of a spell is to compare it to other cards in the format that do the same thing. Silumgar's Scorn is more efficient than Dissolve because it has a lower mana cost, so it sees play even though it is more difficult to utilize, just as Ultimate Price sees some play over the more versatile but costlier Hero's Downfall. If a new removal spell is more efficient than existing offerings, it will see Constructed play.
Languish is destined for Standard play because of its efficiency as a board sweeper. It costs one mana (one-third) more than Drown in Sorrow or Seismic Rupture, but it's twice as powerful. Languish kills many creatures that these lesser sweepers do not, so it is a more powerful and reliable maindeck card that has applications against a wider variety of decks. In current Standard, consider that Languish is excellent against Dragonlord Ojutai and against any number of Deathmist Raptors with megamorph counters, so it's also quite powerful in the context of the format.
Cards that provide or create one or more new cards are said to generate card advantage and they are highly desired in Constructed decks. Card advantage comes in various forms, but the common thread is that they generate new cards to work with. More cards means more options, more ways to interact with the opponent, and more resources with which to win a war of attrition. Drawing cards is the gold standard form of classic card advantage. From Magic Origins, Nissa, Vastwood Seer stands out as a source of card advantage because she searches for a Forest to go along with the 2/2 creature; in other words, she "draws" a Forest card.
Abbot of Keral Keep has promise as a source of card advantage for red decks of all types. When it comes into play it exiles the top card of the library, which can be played that turn. It is a one-shot effect of Chandra, Pyromaster's 0 ability, Outpost Siege's Khans ability, or Ire Shaman's Megamorph trigger. This is new face of red card advantage, which is "fixed" compared to blue card draw because it's ephemeral, fleeting, and can only be harnessed that same turn. Spells require mana, so there's randomness as to whether or not the exiled card can be cast, and there's also randomness as to how the card can be applied to the current turn, if utilized at all; it's especially poor with reactive spells such as Counterspells in particular.
The ability is great for hitting land drops and in Constructed on average some 33%-43% of the time Abbot of Keral Keep will find a land to play, so it has some built-in value that can be utilized from turn three onward (earlier with mana acceleration). This ability grows better as each turn goes on, or more accurately, with each extra mana available, and in late-game scenarios, it's effectively "draw a card." The effed is best utilized in proactive decks with very low mana curves, which lowers the chance of hitting expensive cards that can't be cast.
Abbot of Keral Keep is especially strong with Stoke the Flames, which with Convoke can be cast cheaply, and the Abbot of Keral Keep can add to the convoke. Here's a deck that attempts to make the most of Abbot of Keral Keep:
Creating creature tokens and putting free creatures into play is also a form of card advantage, but it's also a form of tempo advantage, which is in a class of its own.
Board Advantage (Tempo)
Developing one's own side of the board while containing the opposing board is at the essence of Magic games. This requires access to cards in hand, but more importantly, mana to cast these cards. The player that is better able to utilize their mana and get the greater relative impact from their cards will be the victor. Cards that have an impact greater than their input mana cost are said to generate tempo.
A great case study and a clean example of tempo is Harbinger of the Tide. For two mana, it's a 2/2 creature that develops one's board, but it also bounces a tapped opposing creature. Assuming that a 2/2 creature is worth two mana, then Harbinger of the Tide is generating a tempo advantage.
The best tempo generating cards also generate card advantage. If the four-mana Collected Company puts a two mana creature and a three mana creature into play, it's effectively generating a one mana tempo advantage, but also two-for-one card advantage because the one card turned into two cards. Pia and Kiran Nalaar promises to become a Standard staple as a powerful token-generator. Like Pia and Kiran Nalaar, the freshly spoiled Whirler Rogue also creates a 2/2 body and two 1/1 flying Thopter Tokens, so I expect that it will also see some Standard play.
In a Standard metagame where the vast bulk of removal spells are targeted one-for-one removal spells like Hero's Downfall, or burn spells like Lightning Strike, token generating cards are valuable because they effectively generate tempo and card advantage if opponents are forced to deal with them by casting more expensive removal spells. Compared to traditional creatures, token-generating cards better maintain board presence against one-for-one removal spells and it's one of the reasons why Dragon Fodder - and especially Hordeling Outburst - have been so good this Standard season. Token creatures can also be used with anthem effects and sacrifice effects.
Priest of the Blood Rite is a 2/2 creature that puts a 5/5 flying Demon Token into play, and it has great Standard potential. For five mana, Priest of the Blood Rite puts seven power and toughness of creatures into play, which makes it efficient in terms of power/toughness to mana cost, and putting two creatures into play for the cost of one means it generates both card advantage and tempo advantage.
The 2/2 creature losing two life a turn is designed as a drawback to the card, but this doesn't have to be the case. Against non-aggressive opponents, like against U/X control decks, the life loss does not matter, so the 2/2 is a fine threat to keep around. In fair matchups, if it gets to attack it's just trading two damage a turn for two damage a turn. The decks that get the most from Priest of the Blood Rite will find ways to sacrifice the creature for a profit, and the power level of the card is high enough that it will certainly entice players to do so.
Here's a sketch:
Knight of the White Orchid was a Standard staple its last go-around the format and will likely see play again. Searching the library for a Plains and putting it into play is card advantage, but it's also tempo advantage because the extra Plains in play will be able to immediately generate an extra mana, and it will generate an extra mana on all subsequent turns, which after just two uses will have paid for the Knight of the White Orchid.
Synergy with Other Cards
Goblin Piledriver being in Magic Origins has been heralded as the emergence of Goblins as a competitive Modern archetype, but the card also shows significant promise in Standard, which already features some high-profile Goblins. Take for example the following deck, which could easily incorporate Goblin Piledriver:
Filling a Void
Often in Constructed formats, the force of a strategy is so great that it demands opponents fight back with narrow but powerful answers. In current Standard, the Deathmist Raptor stands out as the most oppressive card in Standard, and it warrants that opponents respect it. Magic Origins provides some unique tools that are powerful against Deathmist Raptor.
Infinite Obliteration is the newest version of a long-line of Cranial Extraction-style cards that name a card and exile all copies of that from the opponent's hand, library, and graveyard. Infinite Obliteration is unique in that it costs only three mana compared to the usual four which makes it more effective. The drawback is that it can only name creatures, but this simply makes it more narrow, not less effective at what it does. As a three-mana card it can beat Deathmist Raptor on the play, though it may be too slow on the draw. Infinite Obliteration has potential against other creatures like Den Protector but also consider its applications as a preemptive answer to Dragonlord Ojutai or Dragonlord Atarka.
Hallowed Moonlight is quite narrow, but it very directly hoses Deathmist Raptor. It exiles any number of Deathmist Raptor entering play from the graveyard. It also draws a card which makes it very playable. It's sure to see some sideboard play in Standard, and because it draws a card, it could theoretically see maindeck play.
Unique and Powerful Effects
Often new cards will be printed that aren't necessarily comparable to other cards, and have to be looked at from a fresh perspective. These cards must be tested with experimentation and trial and error to determine their viability. They aren't necessarily easy to wield, but they offer a high payoff.
From Magic Origins, Flameshadow Conjuring stands out to me as a powerful card. An enchantment that doesn't directly impact the board immediately there is certainly a large hurdle to overcome, but afterwards it's capable of generating a lot of free damage for its controller, and potentially lots of value. It's abusable with creatures that generate some value when they leave play, like Siege Rhino or the new Priest of the Blood Rite, and I could see it being the centerpiece of a deck built around these creatures. Flamerush Rider even offers some redundancy to the effect if desired.
Jace's Sanctum is another four-mana enchantment with no impact, but it offers to start paying back the investment immediately. Reducing the cost of instants and sorceries is no small matter, especially when it's difficult for opponents to destroy. It takes four spells to break even, and most Constructed games are too fast to this easily recapturable, but a control deck can slow the game down long enough to make it reasonable. This effect could be especially useful against other control decks, where games are longer and provide more opportunity to profit from the investment.
The additional ability of Jace's Sanctum is what pushes the card into the realm of Standard playability, because scrying one after each spell will find more spells, and ensure its controller has a steady supply of game-winning fuel.
A few copies of Jace's Sanctum would be quite strong in a deck like the following:
At the end of the day, the quality of card is determined by what it does and how effectively it does it. Cards with a big impact tend to trump cards that do less. Lightning Strike is more efficient than Exquisite Firecraft, but Exquisite Firecraft destroys a wider range of creatures like Courser of Kruphix and it's more powerful in terms of raw damage output; I wouldn't be surprised if some players make the switch.
Another example of a powerful card likely to see Standard play is Gaea's Revenge, which was once used in Wolf Run Ramp as a way to dodge Counterspells and black removal. It could see play in current Standard to attack UBx control decks. While less flexible, it's a more powerful sideboard card than Mistcutter Hydra because it's not vulnerable to black removal like Ultimate Price.
What other characteristics make cards Standard stars? What other Magic Origins cards show competitive potential?