Insider: Earthshaking Up Standard

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On my first episode of QS cast, I was nervous. I felt like there was a lot riding on one simple question that Chaz said he was going to ask me at some point in the episode: “What’s your pick from Hour of Devastation?” I felt like there was a lot riding on my answer (although I couldn’t have done too badly, because I keep managing to get on week after week), and then as I was sifting feverishly through the spoiler, I saw a card that made all of my anxieties vanish immediately. It was a 2/1 for two mana.

That’s right, everyone. Champion of Wits, although the card I am still most excited for in Hour of Devastation Standard, was not even the first eternalize card to catch my eye. When I was asked about what cards I thought would shine in Hour of Devastation, I said confidently, “Earthshaker Khenra.” When I talked about it the next Monday, it was around a dollar at TCGplayer mid. As of this writing, it is around $2, and buylisting on Star City Games for 50 cents.

The margins are not as good as they were a couple days or a couple weeks ago, but picking up a set or two now could pay off big time after the Pro Tour. Given recent bannings that have left Standard fairly open to shakeups after a long, stale period of Copy Cat and Aetherworks Marvel decks, the Pro Tour may well have several breakout finance winners this weekend. I firmly believe that Earthshaker Khenra can be one of them. My belief is rooted in both the quality of the card on its own and observation of some of the hallmarks of crappy-looking red creatures that go up to $8.

When a red deck becomes viable in Standard, it usually takes a rare from a recent set to prop it up. That rare will generally be evaluated a specific way (“Sweet in Limited if I am playing red, I suppose,” leading to a nearly bulk pricing initially), followed by the realization that, no, "good in Limited" does not necessarily mean "bad in Standard."

Already, Earthshaker Khenra dominated the recent Team Constructed Open, putting three copies of Mono-Red Aggro into the top eight. One of the things that make this list even better: Tom Ross’s addition of Built to Smash. It will blow out Abrades and Harnessed Lightnings until people learn to play around it. Welcome back, beginning-of-combat stops! The combination of an aggressive enters-the-battlefield ability and late-game value makes Earthshaker Khenra one that is at the top of my list for whatever red deck I am trying to put together.

Over the past five years or so, there have been several cards that give me serious finance déjà vu. Earthshaker Khenra is from a long line of cards that made their respective Red Deck Wins builds tick. In Magic Origins, Abbot of Keral Keep provided an efficient body, a power boost and a card in a format where there was a chance that having a four-power creature meant your opponent was just dead. You can tell that this card was good because playing it on turn two and forfeiting the card was not necessarily wrong, and could very well have been correct.

Goblin Rabblemaster, from M15, was immediately recognized for the bomb it was in Limited, then the price skyrocketed when people found out that it could also deal a lot of damage very quickly in Standard. It helped that although Rabblemaster cost three, it frequently saw play in decks that cast it on turn two with the help of Elvish Mystic – this was my deck of choice back then.

Mutavault may seem out of place among these other cards, as people playing when Mutavault was most recently in Standard may remember it for the UW Control grindfests that were won by the control player’s single Mutavault, but every deck that could manage it was playing it, including Red Deck Wins. If you factor in that it needs one mana to activate and tapping it to attack removes the option of using it for mana later, it’s even a two-drop!

Mutavault was insanely inexpensive for what it had been pre-reprinting (~$40) at the beginning of the format, only to go up quickly once everyone realized that it went into every deck. It's important to note that this is what separates Mutavault and Goblin Rabblemaster from Abbot of Keral Keep and Earthshaker Khenra: Goblin Rabblemaster and Mutavault fit into multiple decks, leaving their long-term potential much higher.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the ways to evaluate whether a card was intended to see Standard play is to look for the Wizards development team's influence. Earthshaker Khenra has all the classic signs of a card thought likely to see tons of Standard play, from a set mechanic, to a color-specific mechanic, to an extra keyword just for the heck of it. The difference between Earthshaker Khenra and Champion of Wits is that Champion looked like it was actively downgraded; Earthshaker goes the other way due to the jam-packed rules text.

This fits in with other cards I have mentioned. Abbot of Keral Keep, for example, had prowess, a keyword that became evergreen in Magic Origins, and “impulsive drawing,” or a draw that requires the player to use the spell that turn. Mutavault was part of a series of really cool cards getting reprinted into Standard, alongside Scavenging Ooze.

One issue with this comparison, to be fair, is that there were other powerful things going on in those formats. Goblin Rabblemaster enabled its controller to cast Stoke the Flames for free with terrifying consistency. Abbot of Keral Keep was paired with the two-card combo of Become Immense and Temur Battle Rage, and had the benefit of being in a red deck against a field of four-color, fetchland-heavy decks. Mutavault is one of the best lands there ever was.

One card that seems to fit several of these categories – aggressively costed, set mechanic, red mechanic, and a bonus keyword – that never went anywhere is Ire Shaman, from Dragons of Tarkir. Ire Shaman had all the makings of a great red card: she had an aggressive body with an aggressive ability, and she could even draw you a card! She had it all… Except, in order for the card to be any good, you had to play it as a morph, essentially a 2/2 for three mana. This is not very impressive compared to getting value immediately from Earthshaker Khenra in the falter ability, which you can use again later in the game. It can be the first thing that you play and still be impactful late.

One more thing: Earthshaker Khenra is currently $6 on Magic Online. It’s pretty popular there, you could say. While online numbers don’t necessarily correlate with paper popularity, this is a $2 jump from when I looked at its MTGO price on Monday. That says a lot to me.

Earthshaker Khenra has the potential to go up to at least $5, if not more, over the course of the Pro Tour. This gives me hope for Standard, because if a red deck can thrive, say, one week out of four, that means to me the metagame is pretty well balanced. It also gives me hope for my own collection – I opened a promo Earthshaker Khenra at the prerelease. What do you think of this card's prospects?

2 thoughts on “Insider: Earthshaking Up Standard

  1. Morgan, I really like the deep-dig analysis you do for a single card. It shows a very thoughtful and thorough approach as to why “X card could shine.” Keep up the great work!

  2. Morgan, the way you highlight specific cards you’ve spoken about on Cast – and then go in-depth, is really awesome. Great articles thus far!

    You’re also a natural on the Podcast!

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