There have been over 50 fresh cards revealed since the spoiler article I wrote last week. These new cards will provide a deeper look into the post-rotation Khans of Tarkir fall Standard metagame and help to paint a picture of the world to come.
Powerful wedge-colored gold cards are in no short supply. Spoilers this past week featured a cycle of three-ability Charms that will surely be tournament staples as long as the set is Standard legal, further Exploration of the game-changing Ascendancy enchantment cycle, and some truly impressive creatures that will define Standard for years to come.
Jeskai Charm catches my eye as the most exciting Charm in the set. I'm impressed because it has three powerful abilities that will be useful in various game situations.
The first ability, which puts a creature on top of its owner's library, will be great when the Jeskai deck is behind on board, and is looking to buy time in order catch up with the opponent. When ahead, this ability will push a back-peddling opponent even further behind. Putting a creature on top of the opponent's deck offers the same card economy and tempo as raw creature removal. As unconditional removal, Jeskai Charm is similar to Terminate in its disruptive capabilities.
The second ability is simple: deal four damage to target opponent. Dealing four damage to the opponent will be great when the Jeskai deck is looking to close out a game. It also provides a great amount of game-winning reach in late-game topdeck situations when the Jeskai deck has run out of cards and options. With this ability, Jeskai Charm will fill some of the void left open by the rotating Boros Charm.
The final ability, which grants its controller's creatures +1/+1 and lifelink until end of turn, is excellent in racing situations. The power boost will lead to extra damage like a miniature Overrun, and the lifelink will translate into a pad of extra life to help survive the opponent's counter-attack. This is the most narrow of Jeskai Charm's abilities, but in context it will be the most game-breaking.
Jeskai Charm looks like a slamdunk for Standard, and I expect it to help create a new breed of aggressive, tempo-oriented Jeskai decks over the coming two years. Jeskai Charm may also have some place in Modern, perhaps in UWR Geist of Saint Traft decks. Jeskai Charm looks particularly fun with Young Pyromancer, a card being increasingly adopted into that Modern archetype.
Mardu Charm stands out because of its versatility. Mardu Charm is the combination of a removal spell, a token-generating combat trick, and a discard spell.
The first of the abilities does four damage to target creature. This makes it a relatively powerful removal spell capable of killing nearly any three mana or less creature along with many creatures higher up the curve. Four damage kills a majority of creatures Mardu decks will come across, including the all-important Courser of Kruphix and the powerful Brimaz, King of Oreskos.
If Mardu Charm is seen primarily as a removal spell, then the ability to produce two 1/1 tokens at instant speed helps alleviate the problem of it being a dead card when the opponent has no targets for removal. When the Mardu deck wants to get aggressive, Mardu Charm can create an offense at instant speed like Raise the Alarm. This ability is even more powerful because these tokens gain first strike for their first turn in play. The tokens do not have haste, so this effectively makes Mardu Charm a combat trick for putting in surprise blockers when the opponent attacks, similar to Restoration Angel. Mardu Charm will Ambush at a profit up to two X/1 creatures or one X/2 creature. In these cases Mardu Charm will act as a removal spell and an offensive threat, and in these cases it will truly shine. Mardu Charm will also have value by its mere existence if the opponent expects it and in many cases the opponent will hold back attackers in order to play around a nightmare combat Ambush scenario.
The third ability converts Mardu Charm into a discard spell. This discard spell does not Remove creatures, making it somewhat narrow, but it will removal any instants, sorceries, or noncreature artifacts and enchantments. It will be excellent for discarding opposing disruption like targeted removal and board sweepers, which are exactly the cards an aggressive Mardu deck will need to play around. Mardu Charm also provides a removal-heavy control deck a way to interact with noncreature threats. Most of all, the third ability compliments the creature-removal ability and makes Mardu Charm a balanced and reliable form of disruption.
Sultai Charm brings to the table impressive removal power along with card-selection ability.
Sultai Charm is headlined by the ability to destroy any monocolored creature. This ability will be constricted in a wedge-block with many multicolored creatures, but Standard will still contain a wealth of targets, especially cards from Theros block, including Courser of Kruphix and Brimaz, King of Oreskos.
The ability to destroy any artifact or enchantment is a bonafide Naturalize. This sort of effect is sometimes quite powerful but narrow in scope, which typically relegates this style of card to sideboards. Sultai Charm makes it possible to play this effect in the maindeck. The ability to destroy enchantments is relevant since Theros was an enchantment-oriented block and it's full of enchantments like the Bestow cards. Khans of Tarkir contains relevant enchantments as well, notably the Ascendancy cycle.
The third ability on Sultai Charm is perhaps most important of all. Sultai Charm draws two cards and discards one card, a Catalog-effect that ensures the card is never useless. Compared to Izzet Charm, this ability is much better because it actually replaces itself, and it's more powerful than Azorius Charm because it digs down two cards. At the worst case of no other cards in hand it has twice the card selection power of Azorius Charm, but in the best case scenario it will pitch a dead card and effectively draw two cards outright.
Temur Charm offers great disruptive capability with a Hunt the Weak-style effect paired with a Mana Leak, along with a combat-oriented finisher that plays well with oversized Temur monsters.
The first ability of Temur Charm pumps a creature +1/+1 for a turn and has it fight an opposing creature. In a simple sense this will be treated as a removal spell, and it allows a Temur deck with a large creature in play to destroy any one smaller opposing creature, or trade with a large one. The temporary +1/+1 counter helps the ability be more consistently relevant and effective. This ability will be great paired with a high toughness like Courser of Kruphix, and while it is fundamentally conditional, it should be consistently relevant in a creature-focused Temur deck.
The second ability is a pure Mana Leak, which counters a spell unless its controller pays three mana. This will be consistently powerful and makes Temur Charm a reliable Counterspell for most of the game. The utility will wane in the late-game and when opponents work to play around it, but at the very least it buys time in the early to mid-game and helps the Temur deck transition to the stage of the game when it can deploy powerful game-changing threats.
The third ability of Temur Charm renders creatures with power three or less unable to block. This is a pseudo-Falter that will be most useful for turning off opposing chump blockers and for pushing through Temur fatties. This sort of ability is incredibly narrow and likely an afterthought reason for playing this card, but it will be game-winning in tight racing situations that will assuredly come up in actual gameplay.
Abzan Ascendancy seems tailor-made for rush aggressive strategies. The enchantment has two distinct effects, both of which play well with lots of cheap creatures. First, upon resolution Abzan Ascendancy puts a permanent +1/+1 counter on each of its controller's creatures. This is effectively an anthem effect, with the only condition being it must come down after the creatures. Abzan Ascendancy will serve as powerful follow-up to a weenie rush and will help creatures fight through blockers or race more quickly.
Once in play, Abzan Ascendancy converts any of its controller's destroyed creatures into flying 1/1 white Spirit Tokens. This ability is a strong hedge against removal spells, particularly board sweepers, because it will replace any destroyed creature with a flying threat that will continue the aggression. This ability is an ideal follow-up to a rush of early creatures and, combined with the first ability, makes Abzan Ascendancy a holistically and strategically sound card that will find practical applications throughout the upcoming Standard season.
Mardu Ascendancy is similar to Abzan Ascendancy in that it is great combined with aggressive creatures. It comes with two abilities: one that converts every attacker into extra creatures and one that serves as an insurance policy protecting its controller's creatures.
The first ability on Mardu Ascendancy generates an attacking 1/1 Goblin Token whenever its controller attacks with a nontoken creature. This will trigger for each attacker, so combined with an early weenie rush this will quickly snowball out of the opponent's hands. Mardu Ascendancy is especially useful after an early rush if cast precombat and converted into tokens immediately after casting. Mardu Ascendancy will also stick around after removal and board sweepers, and it Threatens to make each and every creature a token-generating threat.
Mardu Ascendancy can also be cashed in to give all of its controller's creatures +0/+3 until end of turn. This is great for allowing creatures to survive combat against blockers, ideally living for another turn and finishing the job later. This ability is also great against burn spells as removal, and especially against toughness-checking board sweepers like Anger of the Gods and Drown in Sorrow.
Sultai Ascendancy is an elegant card that offers repeatable, continuous card selection and helps to enable Sultai-specific synergies. On each of its controller's upkeeps, Sultai Ascendancy looks at the top two cards of its controller's library and gives the option of putting any number of these cards into the graveyard or back on top of the deck in any order. With the ability to effectively scry two, Sultai Ascendancy offers twice the card selection power of Thassa, God of the Sea, and it's more comparable to a Sensei's Divining Top plus a shuffle effect each turn. It's practical and powerful and will very reliably find action for its controller.
Sultai Charm is also an excellent graveyard-enable for Sultai. It can stock the graveyard with whatever is necessary, and because it puts card into the graveyard directly from the library, it triggers the ability of cards like Sidisi, Brood Tyrant; the enchantment followed by the legend forms a powerful curve and will likely serve as the core of graveyard-minded Sultai decks in future Standard formats. It also has potential in Sultai control decks.
Based on spoilers, Khans of Tarkir contains a cycle of cheap and powerful wedge-colored Rare creatures that offer significant incentive to harness their specific three-color combination. Three cards have been spoiled so far:
In the purest sense, Mantis Rider is a port of Lightning Angel, and compared to the original it has traded a point of toughness for costing one less mana, which is effectively a huge power boost. Mana cost is the most significant power restriction on a card, and Mantis Rider costing one less mana makes it significantly more powerful. In terms of a purely offensive tool, the loss of one toughness is no cost at all. It's faster on offense than Lightning Angel, and is quicker to defend against early weenies. This card is highly aggressive, and with flying it will fly over Courser of Kruphix and Threaten planeswalkers. This card is likely to be a four-of in any aggressive Jeskai deck in the coming Standard format.
Savage Knuckleblade is an overpowered creature that reminds me more of Morphling than anything else. At the bare minimum, it's a three-mana 4/4 creature, which offers a great ratio of power/toughness to mana. In some ways it's comparable to creatures like Loxodon Smiter or the shard-colored Wooly Thoctar. Three additional abilities offer extra power and utility. The simplest ability can be used once a turn and converts 2G into a +2/+2 buff for the turn, which makes Savage Knuckleblade difficult to manage in combat and a 6/6 offensive threat. The ability to return to hand for 2U makes Savage Knuckleblade very difficult to destroy; it will turn Hero's Downfall into an Unsummon or will require another piece of removal in response to the bounce effect to be destroyed. Given enough time, Savage Knuckleblade will exhaust opposing removal and ultimately destroy the opponent. The ability to gain haste effectively gives Savage Knuckleblade the option to be cast as a GURR 4/4 with haste, and it also plays very well with the return to hand ability because it puts Savage Knuckleblade right back into the red zone.
I expect Savage Knuckleblade will be a big part of Standard if Temur provides itself competitive, and I expect Savage Knuckleblade will serve a crucial role in creating that reality.
Compared to the previous two cards in the cycle, Siege Rhino costs an additional colored mana, coming in at 1WBG, but this Abzan creature comes with a high raw power level.
Just analyzed on stats alone, Siege Rhino is a 4/5 trampling creature that will fight through most blockers or defend against any small aggressive creature. With five toughness, it dodges many of the most commonly played forms of removal in the set, including Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker.
When it comes into play, Siege Rhino triggers an ability that drains the opponent for three life and its controller gains three life, making Siege Rhino something like a fixed Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Siege Rhino comes with nowhere near the upward scaling potential of that black card, but it's much more reliable by itself because it requires no synergies, and the trigger cannot be prevented outright if the creature is removed in response. Siege Rhino is a very powerful standalone threat, and it also comes down a full turn earlier than Gray Merchant of Asphodel. Siege Rhino is simply pure power personified: an inelegant but brutally effective card that will play a huge role in the Standard formats to come.
Share any thoughts and ideas on future Standard in the comments, or tweet me @adamyurchick.