This weekend I got a chance to play the midnight prerelease at my local game store. It is amazing to me that even though I've played with thousands upon thousands of different Magic cards over the years, getting to play with new cards for the first time is still an exciting event for me.
Now that the novelty of the new set and the prerelease has come and gone, it's time to get down to the business of preparing for a new Standard format. I've already been testing for the past week or so with proxy cards but it will certainly be fun to get some paper copies of BFZ cards into my sleeves soon! In particular, I'm planning on attending the SCG Open in Indianapolis next weekend so I've certainly got my work cut out for me.
In today's article I'm going to share some of the cards from the new set that I've found to be the absolute best in testing so far. Some of these cards are already commanding some attention.
The "Tango" Land Cycle
I still like calling them "Tango" lands (because it "takes two to tango").
The fact of the matter is that they are the most important cards in the set for Standard by a wide margin. No matter what these lands did, it was pretty much predestined that they would have a huge impact on Standard. There is only so much mana fixing available in Standard and all of it is important.
The downside to these lands is that they are probably the worst "big set" land cycle in the past five years (and yes, I think these lands are decidedly worse than the Scry lands they're replacing). Nonetheless, tangos are what we have and they will be in every single deck in the format. It is important to keep in mind that these are not cards that are going to be good in other constructed formats. They are not good in Modern, Legacy, etc.
Honestly, the $10 tags are likely the high watermark for these lands (unless a particular one separates itself as the best one). Everybody needs these lands and I would highly recommend trading them off ASAP as long as you don't need them for a specific deck. The odds are that you'll be able to pick up the ones you trade away for significantly cheaper in a month.
I also wouldn't recommend picking up full sets of these lands right off the bat. Get the ones you need for the deck you are going to play but wait to make your player sets as the prices will likely come down once people start drafting.
I've got to give the edge to Shambling Vent as the better of the two man-lands. Lumbering Falls is certainly awesome in Standard and should be played in every deck that plays blue and green, but the five-mana activation is asking a lot. Both lands are great because they are dual lands with upside.
Shambling Vent also has the upside of getting to be put in every deck that plays Siege Rhino. We already know that Abzan is going to be one of the decks to beat and that midrange getting a lifelink man-land can't really hurt its chances of staying the best deck.
One of the better performing archetypes that I've played with has been Red Aggro and this land is quite awesome against that type of deck. First of all, it matches up great against all of their little creatures when blocking and can easily neutralize two threats because it has lifelink (trade with one and gain life to nullify another).
Honestly, I'm kind of surprised that the man-lands are less than the tango lands. I think Shambling Vent and Lumbering Falls are miles better than the tangos. I'd be looking to pick these lands up while they are still in the $5 price range as I'd be surprised if they don't quickly end up $8 to $10 range. Every time man-lands are in Standard they are completely bananas and I don't see this time around being any different.
It is also significant that Ruinious Path, aka the best removal spell in the format, is a sorcery and can't interfere with attacks and blocks from the Shambling Vent. Lumbering Falls has hexproof so it has a built in immunity to all removal.
Speaking of Ruinous Path...
Ruinous Path and to a similar extent Scatter to the Winds are both cards that I find really annoying. Hero's Downfall and Dissolve have been Standard all-stars for the past year and now that they are finally rotating out they are replaced with very similar cards. Both 3cc kill a creature or planeswalker and 3cc hard counter have been staple effects in Standard for the past two years and will continue to be so for another two years.
Me being annoyed with what I'd consider to be lazy set design aside, it seems fairly obvious that the card is going to be fantastic in Standard. I think it's worse than Hero's Downfall in blue decks with counters that want to play on the opponent's turn but has a ton of upside in Abzan or tap out decks. It is also worth noting that this card is much worse against Dragonlord Ojutai and without Downfall to check him the Dragon probably gets a lot better in Standard.
So, there are some instances where this card is worse than Downfall and all of those instances are times when you'd want to cast it on your opponent's turn! The upside is whenever you draw this card later in the game with enough mana to upgrade one of your lands to a 4/4.
It's not as good as a 4/4 187 creature (since if it dies you are down a land) but the extra body certainly has a lot of value in grindy match-ups. Drawing it late in the game to kill something and suddenly create another threat can easily sway a game from bad to great in a hurry.
The card is going to be a format staple that gets by cast by anybody who can handle making BB on turn three. I also think this card will go up beyond just $8. I think people want to give the card that price tag because it is comparable to Hero's Downfall and that is a price that Downfall commanded for much of its time in Standard.
However, we should remember that there were also times when Downfall was new and in very high demand when it sold for $15. I think this card goes up in the short term as players clamor to get their play sets for decks in the coming weeks and will then eventually cool off and settle around $7 or $8.
Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
Every single person who plays with this card in playtesting seems to have the same experience of being completely blown away. It has three abilities and they are all fantastic. I actually reviewed this card for an Eternal podcast last week and said that I think it will see fringe Legacy and Vintage play. Yeah, it's that good...
Based on my experience of the games that I've played so far I would say this card is the best card in the set. It is crazy powerful. It can generate card and board advantage by creating tokens and bring the beats by turning into a big body creature itself. The minus ability to create a Glorious Anthem emblem is also extremely useful in situations where you are trying to win the game on the turn you cast Gideon.
It isn't super relevant yet, but it could also be important later on in this block that Gideon produces ally soldier tokens, which is another way to help trigger the rally mechanic.
I particularly like Gideon in a deck that can capitalize on Tragic Arrogance. It is pretty sweet that you can choose him as your planeswalker to save and then turn him into a creature and attack all in the same turn.
$40 seems excessive, so if you don't need Gideon for a tournament right away I'd wait to pick him up until the price comes down a little bit. While the card may seem some fringe play in older formats it is no Jace, Vryn's Prodigy // Jace, Telepath Unbound where it will be a staple in every format and deserves a super high tag. If you wait it out this card will come down significantly.
It is really surprising to me that this card isn't a rare because it feels like a rare. Three mana for three power, two bodies, and two abilities spread across those bodies. You really get a lot of stuff for three mana.
1/1 tokens are really no joke. They are even better when they can be used as a Lotus Petal. Also, the fact that the Sifter allows us to gain a bunch of free Scry effects on complicated or crowded boards when people tend to trade seems great.
I see this card as a nice replacement for Courser of Kruphix. It isn't as good as Courser, but the card leaves a pretty big hole to fill in Rock style black-green decks. The Sifter has the back end to block aggressive creatures and also generates and smoothes out mana. I like the fact that the card allows us to ramp in match-ups or on boards where the 1/1 doesn't matter very much.
The card screams value and options, and if time has taught us anything it is that cards that create those two attributes tend to be fantastic in Constructed.
I've said this card is fantastic from day one and I noticed that it finally jumped up a few dollars which I totally expected to happen.
I've written about this card and why I think it is great in my last two articles so I don't want to beat a dead horse. However, it does a lot of the kinds of things that we'd typically expect from a big creature. It generates card advantage and has great stats. It also ramps in a format where people may well want to be ramping.
Also, I haven't written about this yet and haven't heard people talk about it either, but using Oblivion Sower to ramp into Ugin, the Spirit Dragon is something I'm very interested in trying. It is pretty sweet that Ugin doesn't kill Eldrazi creatures so it is pretty easy to build a deck that can use the planeswalker dragon's minus ability as a one-sided wrath.
With the limited experience I've put together playing with the new cards, these are the ones that I'm most impressed with for Standard Constructed. I think the cards that best pair up with these kinds of cards are ones to be looking at and trading for. Or, if you are working on brews these are the cards that I'd strongly consider trying to find room for.
Hopefully, I end up with a great brew for SCG Indianapolis. Either way, I'm excited to play with the new cards and to see how the format shakes out.