Grand Prix Madrid came to an abrupt end on early for me. Uninspired, even though I tried hard to find a new concoction, I picked up Red-Green Marvel and it didn't work out too well. My 2016 Magic year could have ended on a better note, but 2017 is just around the corner and there are more tournaments to make up for it, so no hard feelings.
In the last couple of months since the Pro Tour in Hawaii, Standard matured into a format that sees decks establishing themselves and fewer and fewer new ones breaking out. Certain powerful cards have proven to be serious players – love them or hate them – and most players' opinions depend on what their weapon of choice is. Now that Standard rotation has been reset to what it used to be - so the cards that are currently in standard will stick around for three more sets - Kaladesh cards are only leaving when the eighth set from now is released.
Today we're going to go through the cards that are dominating Standard and that have kept other cards down from past sets and will probably keep down a lot of cards from future sets as well. This is the eight most oppressive cards in Standard.
An oppressive card is a card that keeps deckbuilders away from building certain strategies because they would be straight up beaten by it. They're the cards people talk about when they say: "I can't wait for [cardname] to rotate out of standard!" They are the barriers to new decks and why the current format-defining decks are so good.
Prepare for at least another year of these cards, because there are not going anywhere anytime soon! We'll start with an honorary mention.
Played mostly in Black-Green Delirium, Liliana is a very versatile card that allows you to keep some creatures at bay, mill yourself and retrieve your important creatures from the graveyard. Along with Emrakul, it creates a loop that will lock the game in your favor.
The card would have been great already if it gave creatures -2/-0 instead of -2/-1. The -1 kills only kills very few creatures in the current format: Veteran Motorist, Selfless Spirit or Bomat Courier. What it doesn't kill is a bunch of creatures in decks that can't be played, mostly due to Liliana being in the format.
One of the creatures I have in mind is Wharf Infiltrator. I built a bunch of decks around that card (not all great, I have to say) and unfortunately, as long as Liliana is in the format, I don't think we'll ever see this guy around. Too bad they're from the same set and if one goes, so does the other. If a good one-toughness creature comes out in the new set that costs two or more and doesn't do something right away (scry 2 for example), consider it unplayable.
Matt Severa took Mardu Vehicles to a first place finish in Denver. Inspired by Lee Shi Tian and his team's version from Pro Tour Kaladesh, the deck packs both vehicles and dwarves to win. Aether Revolt is very likely to bring us more of both kinds and Depala will just have more wheels and little people to play with (Heart of Kiran has just been spoiled at the minute I'm writing this). It almost feels like the Mardu Vehicles deck is incomplete and that it will get to its final form, Dragonball Z style, with the release of the next set.
Don't you hate it when you play your key spell and they counter it with a beater to follow up? Just like Reflector Mage, Spell Queller is just too easy to play. Basically, any card that's easy to cast and that provides a huge tempo or card advantage is unfair. Sure, you can kill it (and you will need cards to kill it), but in the meantime, they have time to find ways to protect it and beat you down with their Smuggler's Copter that found a pilot.
Marvel decks naturally have answers to Spell Queller in the form of Harnessed Lightning, and they would play it whether the spirit was in the format or not. However, other decks that would rely on big spells need to have reliable answers to it, otherwise, there's no point in even trying to build these decks. I'm thinking of cards like Aetherflux Reservoir, Paradoxical Outcome, Panharmonicon (even though we saw Seth pulling out a nice finish with this card at GP Denver). Regular counterspells (at least the ones in the current format) are fair as they are situational and they can be played around. In the worst-case scenario (for them), Spell Queller is still a creature.
Don't you hate it when you cast your big creature and it never gets to attack ever? Reflector Mage is too good because it doesn't require any effort to be played. It's a shame when you spend four hard-earned mana to cast your dude and they just bounce it and you can't play it on the following turn.
Basically, with Reflector Mage in the format, it means that if your creature doesn't have haste or a enters-the-battlefield ability and cost more than 2 mana, you can't play it in your deck. The creatures I described don't seem very good, but with the Mage around, they become unplayable. Think of it that way, how big a vanilla creature needs to be in today's standard to be playable at 2GG? Would you play a 9/9 for 2GG? Probably in the sideboard against aggro decks but very unlikely in the main. Along these lines, it keeps Gitrog Monster in check (making him barely playable).
Ishkanah is one of these cards with too many abilities. It would still have been very good if it only made two spiders, or if it didn't have the final ability. The way it works gives Delirium decks and Red-Green Marvel decks an absolute weapon against everything that's too small. When you build your deck, if you lose to a turn five Ishkanah, don't even consider playing it. Any weenie deck needs to go over the top to deal the last damage as there's no way they get past four blockers at once, or run Thalia to gain an extra turn of attack. Control decks don't need Wrath of Gods anymore, they just need a Legendary Spider to stabilize against weenie decks.
Gideon has been the bane of control decks since it came out. Sure it's not great on the draw against aggro decks, it's unbeatable on the play against slow decks. Decks with counterspells need to keep mana open for Negate, but as soon as the planeswalker resolves, it's game over.
Your deck doesn't have instant removal and packs a bunch of small creatures? Forget it, it's not going to work. The problem I have with Archangel Avacyn is the same I have with Gideon, that they are the best white can offer at four and five mana, so when you play white with creatures they are auto-includes, leaving very little options for other four or five mana white cards. A new card comes out, it costs four or five? It has to be a hell of a card to take the spot of one of these.
Six of the 16 decks of last weekend's Grand Prixs were Marvel decks, and it even took the trophy in Madrid. With Aether Revolt coming out next month, it can only get better. I can only imagine that there will be new cards working with energy or providing energy, which will give Marvel decks more options. With the potential to unleash a turn 4 Emrakul or Ulamog, I'd be surprised if this deck somehow died or didn't improve before the rotation.
The cornerstone of any deck playing one-drops. It helps smooth draws, is a great flying beater, discards creatures that want to be in the graveyard (Scrapheap Scrounger, Prized Amalgam), gets boosts from Dwarves (Veteran Motorists and Depala)... the list goes on for Smuggler's Copter.
It forces decks to have an immediate answer to it (they're forced to have some anyway due to Spell Queller). With more cards to be released and probably more good one-drops to come, we're going to see a lot of Copters in the years to come.
While I wouldn't say Emrakul is an oppressive card, it's one of the key elements of Delirium and you need to play accordingly. It takes a while to set up and doesn't always win the game right away. In Red-Green Marvel, it's a bigger problem. A turn four Emrakul is a game ender. The thing is, Ulamog does almost a better job at winning when it's cast off Marvel. It's way harder to cast, but Marvel isn't going to disappear if Emrakul goes away. We've seen versions of Marvels with three Ulamogs and only one Emrakul main deck.
As you can see, I'm not a big fan of the two-year rotation in Standard. Seeing the same cards over and over again is... well, boring. So here's a list of cards I hope we're going to see play in 2017:
It's probably too late for this card to shine in Standard. I built a couple of deck with it that had some potential but that were short a couple of good playable cards. I loved my Village Messenger-Neglected Heirloom draws, but the rest just wasn't good enough. I tried with Town Gossipmonger in a green-white version, and that was okay but not competitively viable. Unless they release more werewolves or transform creatures (unlikely since we just left Innistrad), I doubt I'll ever get to sleeve this card.
Who doesn't love a good looter? I liked this card when it came out, but it never got its chance to shine either. With Liliana around, it probably never will. But just in case, here's something I put together.
I've tried very hard to build a deck around that card, but without any success. Team Eureka managed to put a Metalwork Colossus deck together for the Pro Tour and, according to them, it wasn't great. Marc Tobiasch showed up at GP Madrid with a new version of it that looks quite interesting.
This deck will only improve with new artifacts from Aether Revolt and I can't wait to know if this becomes a serious contender. Off the top of my head I could see Heart of Kiran in this deck along with Saheeli Rai, a planeswalker that was already in my prototype decks to give the Colossus haste and occasionally generate six Colossus mana (when I copied Hedron Archives).
Also, this deck has Corrupted Crossroads, which is a card I've been trying to include in all my Five-Color Eldrazi decks (you've never seen any of these? That's normal, none of them were actually any good). It feels nice to see new decks, but it's also frustrating to know that it was there all along and you missed the right build!
Grixis Emerge and Blue-Black Zombies used to be kind of a big deal, but they are slowly losing popularity. I'm always trying to find a new home for this guy and it doesn't seem that it's going to get a lot of love from the next set. Except for Scrapheap Scrounger, Kaladesh doesn't really push the reanimation concept forward.
Some people still find new ways to pack Prized Amalgam in their decks. Have a look at Daan Pruijt's "Snake of a Copter" deck from GP Madrid:
Some of the "build-around-me cards" saw play last weekend that we haven't seen too much of before. As mentioned above, Panharmonicon led the way, but Metallurgic Summoning also made appearances. How about you? do you have a card you've secretly been keeping in mind and that's just waiting for its time to shine? Do you think the oppressive cards have been keeping you from playing your favorite builds?
- Raphael Levy