Standard: Underrated and Overrated

The world of Standard is constantly evolving. Just like any new format, players are working on new strategies all the time. The difference between this Standard and previous formats is the depth provided by the new set. Return to Ravnica has many more playable cards for constructed formats than we are used to seeing, which means more decks are possible.

Today I want to look at some cards I think have been misevaluated in Standard. Some cards players think too highly of and others are hidden gems that not many people are playing yet. Let’s get started.


Avacyn’s Pilgrim and Arbor Elf

Avacyns Pilgrim
Arbor Elf

Games in Standard do not end quickly. Certainly Zombies of any kind can win reasonably fast, but we are talking turn four with the best possible hand and turn five or six is more reasonable. Do we really need to waste time and cards casting a one-mana accelerant that will most likely get killed the following turn?

If the only reason you’re playing these cards is to jump to three mana, I think that is the wrong line of thinking. A deck like Frites may need these cards to function quickly enough to win games, but other decks should probably not play them. If every game is going long enough for you to hit six mana, wouldn’t you rather have a more impactful spell?

Azorius Charm

Azorius Charm

This may be a shock to you, but I don’t actually like this charm right now. What is it good against? It is definitely good against Zombies, but from the testing I have done, that’s about it. Do you really want to put creatures with haste or enters the battlefield abilities back on top of the deck? This doesn’t slow the game down much at all. The cycling ability is OK and the lifelink ability is good occasionally but four of this card seems a stretch and it might be right to cut it entirely. On the surface it seems amazing, but when the games actually play out you end up using the draw a card option more than you’d like.

Golgari Charm

Golgari Charm

The fact that players are including this in the main baffles me. Let’s break down the three abilities.

-1/-1 to all creatures is a good ability in a format with a lot of one-toughness creatures, which is not the case for our current Standard. This ability should be at its best against Zombies but it doesn’t even kill many of their creatures. As for destroying enchantments, there are a decent number of Detention Spheres running around and occasionally you might want to kill one, but I don’t think that’s a maindeck ability. The third ability, regenerate each creature you control, is great if half of the decks you were playing against were casting Supreme Verdict. Obviously this is not the case.

So is this card playable? Yes, but it really shouldn’t be in the maindeck. I would side this in against any control deck with both blue and white but that’s about it.


Pack Rat

Pack Rat

It’s hard to remember the last time a rat saw play in Standard. The times I can think of were original Ravnica Standard when we had Ravenous Rats and Hellhole Rats. OK, so maybe it was just me playing Hellhole Rats, but they were amazing! Before that, there were some in Kamigawa Block, but it was a major creature type in the block so some were bound to be playable.

Basically, Pack Rat is part of a tribe most players dismiss as unplayable, but it merits a closer look. The first indication is that many players at the Grand Prix last weekend were naming Pack Rat as the best card in Return to Ravnica Limited. When a card dominates Limited, often that carries over to Constructed.

Several aspects of this card make it better than it looks. First is its mana cost, the gold standard for playable creatures in Standard. The fact that it’s a 1/1 is a little unappealing, but it shouldn’t stay that way for long. Also, making a token doesn’t require tapping the rat, which means you can use the ability multiple times per turn. Some players did not realize this and that caused undervaluation. Another part that is misread is the fact that you can discard any card. People tend to think that you need to discard a creature, similar to Lotleth Troll, but that is not the case.

Finally, Pack Rat makes copies of itself, not some other kind of tokens. That means if your opponent kills one of the rats, you still have the card in play even if it is a token copy. These abilities together make for a resilient creature.

Veilborn Ghoul

Veilborn Ghoul

When I am evaluating a card for constructed play, a five mana creature with less power than its mana cost and a drawback like can’t block gets dismissed fairly quickly. The only exception is if the creature has a relevant ability as well. No worries with Veilborn Ghoul though, he doesn’t have a good ability to go with those stats. Or does he? When you play a swamp, return him from your graveyard to your hand. I guess that’s OK if the format is slow as molasses. What if we think outside the box? Is there another way we can abuse this ability?

Maybe a repeatable discard outlet like Pack Rat. We could also discard to Lotleth Troll which is a powerful interaction. If you play Lotleth Troll on turn two, discard Veilborn Ghoul, play your land on turn three and discard again, your troll is already a 4/3!

Necropolis Regent

Necropolis Regent

Let’s get something out of the way. This is not a bulk mythic. With no titans in Standard, we need to change how we evaluate expensive creatures. Think about how this card plays out for a second. The game is progressing evenly and on turn six you play this giant flying vampire. (You opponent stops to read the card because they have never seen it before.) They think nothing of it and are not worried.

The next turn you attack for six damage in the air and put six +1/+1 counters on your vampire. Next turn you’re swinging for twelve in the air. If your opponent took damage from their lands or you dealt them any damage before you played her, they are dead. Once you realize this vampire is a two turn clock, she seems much better.

That’s to say nothing of the situation where you already have creatures in play when you cast her. Then we are talking about doubling the size of your army! I think Necropolis Regent could be the finisher for a control deck or the top end of a midrange aggro deck. She will close the game out so quickly, your opponent won’t know what hit them.

How can we use these underrated cards?

This version of Zombies increases the resiliency of the deck a lot by adding Pack Rat and Veilborn Ghoul. I think ideally the Pack Rat is better on turn five when you can discard immediately, but he is still fine on turn two. Putting Rancor on Veilborn Ghoul if the game goes long seems strong as well. Zombies is a solid aggro deck but this version is just more resilient than some of the other ones I have seen doing well.

This was the first deck I worked on with Necropolis Regent. You may notice the remarkable similarity to the winning deck from Star City Providence, but that is just a coincidence. One of the main differences is my lack of one drops because of the reasons I stated above.

I am still tweaking numbers with this deck but the idea is solid. The goal is to make a continuous stream of creatures with your planeswalkers, trade them off netting virtual card advantage, and then finish your opponent with Necropolis Regent or some Gavony Township activations.

Make sure if you cut the one-mana accelerators as I suggest that you compensate by including more two-drops. For example, I am playing both Farseek and Call of the Conclave as well as a couple Selesnya Charms. These will not only give you plays early in the game but also help you build a stronger board presence.

That’s all for this week. I’m sure there are many more underrated cards that we have yet to discover so keep looking and keep brewing.

Until Next Time,

Unleash the Under Dog Force!

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Mike Lanigan

Mike Lanigan

Mike Lanigan is a high school math teacher by day and a grinder on the weekend. He has had a variety of PTQ top 8's as well as success on the SCG and TCG Player circuits. Over the past two years he has been bringing his game to the Grand Prix level and has been working hard trying to break through onto the pro level. Grand Prix day 2's are not enough anymore. Follow him on his journey to go pro.

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  1. Dan says

    Nice call on Necropolis Regent. Armada Wurm has been getting all the hype at 6CMC (understandably) but Necropolis can turn into an absolute blow out in tokens.

    As for mana dorks they are far more underwhelming in the current std. A lot of games go forever with Thragtusk everywhere. Drawing these on turn 6, 7 is just punishing.

    • Matthew Lewis says

      I totally agree on the Necropolis Agent call too. Currently sitting at 0.58 tix on cardbot, this one’s an easy buy.

      • Mistrblank says

        I can’t stand when people evaluate the Titan test as 6 mana for 6/6 and then try to say it’s invalid because titans don’t exist. The fact is Titans were 6 mana creatures that did something when they hit play and did something IMMEDIATELY when they attacked. This creature still does nothing but cost 6 mana, doesn’t attack right away, and doesn’t do anything when it comes into play. If it lives, it might make another creature bigger that turn, might. It doesn’t even compare to Consecrated Sphinx because if the Sphinx lived to your opponent’s draw step, it replaced itself twice over. Right now, the vampire is a bulk mythic and an EDH card only.

        And certainly if you’re stretching for the Vampire as an underrated call, some of your overrated calls are spurious. Azorious Charm is good because it can draw into Terminus on your opponent’s turn and putting a creature on top of the deck means it’s not going back to the graveyard to be Rites back into play (while also simultaneously blanking a draw step).

        I do agree the Pack Rat is HIGHLY underrated right now and any control deck could easily use it as a finisher. I suspect it will be a big player once Dimir is released in Gatecrash.

  2. Mike Lanigan says

    Thanks for the feedback guys. I am excited to test out Necro Regent in Standard as soon as possible. I really think it is much better than just an EDH card. Certainly it is no titan, but I think it is one of the best choices we have currently available to us in Standard.

    Any other thoughts?

  3. koen_knx says

    A lot of cars are amazing in their ideal conditions, but how often does that happen ?

    Regent seems very vulnerable (fi Selesnya charm).

    Also I don’t understand why an article about speculating on one or more cards is free content… ???

    • jayp says

      We’ll have to wait and see re: Regent. It begins to affect all of your other creatures in the next combat phase – but your opponent still gets to react. It depends on your board state when you cast her, plus whether or not you get at least one effective combat phase in before they knock her out.

      Re speculation – I don’t think Mike was really focused on spec options, this seems like a game strategy article to me – there’s no financial analysis here!

      • Mike Lanigan says

        The spec was a hidden option. I am a financial guy almost as much as I am competitive. In fact, when I started writing for this site, I wrote financial articles. Also, I have actively been trading for Regents because they are so cheap. Ultimately you must make your own decision, but I do think Regent has potential to grow a lot. She is nuts in Commander and that alone may carry her price a bit higher once the set stabilizes.

  4. says

    Great point about Necropolis Regent. I hadn’t thought about her as a 2-turn clock.

    I disagree with you about maindecking Golgari Charm though. The -1/-1 ability hits relevant creatures in a lot more decks than you’re considering. It hits mana dorks to slow down G/W and Reanimator. It hits Lingering Souls tokens. It’s one of the few cards being played that hits Falkenrath Aristocrat. It hits G/W Humans. It hits Sorin Vamp tokens. It hits Snapcaster Mage. It hits Stromkirk Noble and Rakdos Shred-Freak. And so on.

    When you add in the ability to hit Detention Sphere, O-Ring, Intangible Virtue, Underworld Connections, as well as the ability to regenerate from Supreme Verdict, Bonfire, Mizzium Mortars, or just an alpha strike, you have an incredibly flexible card that’s relevant against almost every deck. I play 3x main in my Junk Control deck alongside Selesnya Charm, Abrupt Decay, and O-Rings. Golgari Charm’s almost never a dead card.

  5. Justin says

    I know that this comment is a year too late, but I just came across this article. I have to agree with you about the REGENT. I couldn’t believe how many people were giving this card away after RTR was released. There is one more card that I would like to add to your list of underrated (Mythic) cards. Utvara Hellkite from RTR is one ugly BAMF! This dragon has soooo much overlooked potential. For .25 cents…might as well give the hellkite a try!

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