One of my favorite cards in all of Magic is Momentary Blink. Its interaction with Reveillark was one of the first combos I fell in love with, and I go very, very far out of my way to play flicker effects whenever they're good. From Momentary Blink to Restoration Angel to Soulherder, they always catch my eye during preview season.
So when a card debuted last week and I got tagged repeatedly on Twitter for the similarity to my name, my heart skipped a beat reading that last line of text.
"Exile another target creature you own. Return it to the battlefield under your control at the beginning of the next end step."
Don't get me wrong, the other abilities certainly have their uses. Life gain as a mostly free option is worthwhile in small amounts to improve matchups against aggressive decks. Scry 2 means this card is never completely dead, as it will dig for more action. But the way that we're going to get paid for playing this card is really in the last ability, where jumping through a little bit of a hoop can net card or tempo advantage reliably. (Not everyone is going to have Mind Control effects to make the specific wording of the ability worth two cards on its own.)
The first place I looked to assemble that hoop was actually black, specifically because of Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and the completely un-synergistic (just powerful) cards Mortify and Murderous Rider // Swift End. Sorin and Charming Prince are going to want similar creatures: low-cost with enters-the-battlefield effects. I expect Mortify and Murderous Rider // Swift End to be quite powerful in the new Standard.
The first card I added to this was Plaguecrafter. Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and Plaguecrafter is a combination I snuck into some Esper Hero lists back in May out of the sideboard. One of the tougher parts of making this Sorin work in Standard is that as a four-drop, he is often a touch awkward. Creatures don't always die, and there isn't always a planeswalker to ping or destroy with the +2 ability for immediate value. Plaguecrafter solves this problem on its own, putting itself into the graveyard for Sorin to return the next turn. When under pressure, the now 1 loyalty Sorin can be sacrificed to Plaguecrafter's ability if necessary, or the Plaguecrafter can just serve to turn Sorin's -X into an edict, The Elderspell or a discard effect, depending on the circumstance.
Of course, there are plenty of times when we'd prefer Plaguecrafter to live over something else. Breaking the symmetry on a card like this is nothing new, but Hanged Executioner is a particularly interesting choice with Sorin, and which body gets sacrificed is going to vary from board state to board state. If Plaguecrafter is already keeping the board clear, it might be better to put the Executioner into the graveyard for Sorin to return later for value, for example.
Lazotep Reaver is not the most impressive card, admittedly. But as someone who has registered Saproling Migration before, you can certainly do worse than a 1/2 and a 1/1 for two mana. And unlike Saproling Migration or Raise the Alarm, Lazotep Reaver can be returned by Sorin as well.
Similarly to Plaguecrafter, Cavalier of Night is also very excited to have extra bodies to sacrifice, especially if they can be recurred later for value with its last ability. The card is also just a powerful card in its own right, and does some things that I think we'll be in the market for later.
All of the cards I've listed so far work well with Charming Prince. Plaguecrafter, Hanged Executioner and Lazotep Reaver can all be blinked for some value directly. When the creature that we would want to flicker is already in play and not in the graveyard, Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord can return the Prince to still get their ability. And finally, Charming Prince allows Cavalier of Night to retrigger its Nekrataal ability and provides the body to be sacrificed for it. When Cavalier dies, there should be several useful creatures to return.
I think my favorite potential sequence is:
Turn 2: Charming Prince. Turn 3: Plaguecrafter, sacrifice Charming Prince. Turn 4: Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord. -2 to return Charming Prince, blink Plaguecrafter, sacrifice Charming Prince.Turn 5: Cavalier of Night, sacrifice Plaguecrafter, destroy target creature. -2 Sorin (RIP), return Charming Prince, blink Cavalier of Night. Sacrifice Charming Prince, destroy target creature.
I actually doubt that there will be many times this is super necessary since it's not that often when some combination of four creatures and planeswalkers need to die, but it isn't hard to alter it slightly with the above creature package and still come out pretty far ahead.
This meant I was starting the list with the following:
4 Charming Prince4 Lazotep Reaver 4 Hanged Executioner 4 Plaguecrafter 2 Mortify 2 Murderous Rider // Swift End 3 Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord 3 Cavalier of Night
This deck is definitely on the grindier side of midrange, as actually "aggroing" people out is going to be tricky. But the board is pretty much always going to be clear and unlike most removal, Plaguecrafter isn't embarrassing against everyone.
Another card that's gotten a lot of press but doesn't have a clear home is Rankle, Master of Pranks. Haste and flying are both powerful keywords, and the deck is already looking to play creatures to help break the symmetry of Plaguecrafter, so Rankle's sacrifice ability slots right in. And Rankle's discard ability is particularly vicious since once the Rankle player has chosen it, the opponent is heavily incentivized to either kill Rankle or get hellbent as soon as possible. But then once they're hellbent, Rankle can simply stop choosing to make both players discard, putting them in a bit of a catch 22.
On top of that, another spoiled card can help mitigate the discard ability:
This card seems almost tailor made to work with Rankle, Master of Pranks. Castle Locthwain allows the Rankle player to still draw one card every turn if the discard ability is relevant. Meanwhile, Locthwain wants fewer cards in hand so that it's as close to Underworld Connections as possible. In this shell, the passive on Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord can help further mitigate the life loss, both from this and Murderous Rider's Adventure mode.
As a side note, each of the Castle cycle lands is absolutely absurd. Get used to seeing them for the next two years, because they will be a defining part of Standard for the entire time they're legal unless Wizards prints something pretty drastic. Using lands for more than just one mana a turn is often the difference maker in close games, and each of these has abilities that are incredible considering they require almost no deck building cost.
Finally, one of the best cards from the last format that didn't get a chance to shine was Liliana, Dreadhorde General. As a top end, she should still be incredible, and the deck moves a lot of cardboard between the battlefield and graveyard for her passive—and incidentally, she is yet another symmetrical sacrifice effect we can break. It's possible that the deck might want to move toward Oath of Kaya and Bolas's Citadel, or look to abuse Command the Dreadhorde (since Charming Prince gains more life than it costs in both of these cases), but for now I'd like to see what Liliana can do on her own and with The Elderspell out of the sideboard.
There are oddly few ways to break open a game with The Elderspell by putting several loyalty on a planeswalker out of nowhere, despite how many planeswalkers are running around. Interplanar Beacon and the curve of The Royal Scions, a four-drop planeswalker and Sarkhan the Masterless still looks like an impressive shell, making The Elderspell something I'm pretty interested in having access to.
With all of that said, this is going to be one of the decks I look to try next week to start preparing for SCG Philadelphia:
I suspect Order of Midnight // Alter Fate is very powerful, but I'm not sure if this is the right shell for it or not. It will certainly be one of the first cards to go if it's not what I'm looking for, but splitting up the costs on Gravedigger is actually a pretty big deal, even if Raise Dead isn't that impressive. It also functions as a two-drop if needed, which in a world with Teferi, Time Raveler can be pretty critical.
The sideboard is very up-in-the-air while we're still getting new previews and before any games in the real format can be played. For now I'm assuming that our aggro matchup is absolutely incredible, as we have so many ways to deal with creatures. Unless they go way under us with a Cavalcade of Calamity-style deck, we should have plenty of resources to beat them. This lets us focus on ramp, control and combo decks that might exist instead of devoting cards to a mix of archetypes.
Because we're so heavily black, there aren't many answers to noncreature spells available to us. Discard is effective against control and combo, and can hopefully keep ramp off-balance long enough that our creatures can finish them.
Yarok's Fenlurker is my choice here because it skirts around the passive ability on Tamiyo, Collector of Tales while also working with Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord and Charming Prince. Between the Lurker, Plaguecrafter and Rankle, Master of Pranks, running an opponent out of cards to then exploit Castle Locthwain should be a piece of cake.
Ashiok, Dream Render is here almost entirely because of Field of the Dead decks, which I expect to still be present in the format. That they also function as a way to get cards into our graveyard or exile the opponent's graveyard makes Ashiok a decent catch-all option for now. If Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead take over, it's still possible that the sideboard could contain a pretty transformative plan with Rotting Regisaur as a way to close out the game quickly. Removing a few blockers should be easy for the deck, it doesn't take many hits to kill them with a 7/6.
They say don't wait for your Prince Charming, but when he's showing up with contemporaries like we're seeing in Eldraine, it's hard not to be excited waiting for him. Throne of Eldraine is shaping up to be one of the most impactful sets in Standard, an impressive feat considering just how powerful War of the Spark was and will continue to be. Between the cards leaving Standard, the incentives to play just one or two colors and the rare land cycle, I don't think Standard is going to look anything like how it did the last six months. With any luck, maybe we can even shove Teferi, Time Raveler out of the format for a while… at least until Temple of Enlightenment is reprinted in January.
Nick Prince is a competitive Magic player and member of the L.A. Gayming Society leadership team.
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