A small set like Dragon’s Maze, which doesn’t contain too many obviously powerful cards, can be very difficult to evaluate. The standout cards everyone is talking about include Voice of Resurgence, Ral Zarek, and Sire of Insanity. Their roles are very clear and it’s easy to see what kinds of decks those cards will go in, as well as what kinds of decks those cards will be good against.
I want to take a look at some Dragon’s Maze cards that should definitely be on your radar coming into this new Standard season. These ideas won’t be the next big things that breaks the format, but they’ll give you a feel for how the new cards can be used and maybe give you a different perspective on them.
This card’s power is deceptive. The first two abilities (which is really one ability) make you lean toward the card being used in aggro decks; when you look at the activated ability, you may be inclined to think of it in that context. That isn’t a bad thing, because that ability is certainly very, very good in aggro decks. It helps you dodge removal, it can threaten to “untap” your creatures when you’re attacked, and Legion’s Initative paired with Boros Charm can give your RWx deck a lot of play and resilience.
If you are going to build an aggro deck with Legion’s Initative, I recommend it a monored deck with a white splash so you can get as much value out of the “Anthem” effects as possible. The only way to get full value is to play creatures that are both red and white, and of those, Boros Reckoner is probably the only one that is actually playable (and it can fit into a honored or monowhite deck anyway). Your last two options are to play mostly white or mostly red, and because the offensive ability is on the red part, that’s the better alternative.
However, I wouldn’t actually build an aggro deck with this card. I want to find cool ways to use its flicker ability, which I like to think of as a wide scale Restoration Angel. Here’s something that I’d start with:
Naya Legion by David Doyle
This is fairly reminiscent of the Conjurer’s Closet decks that have been popping up, but Legion’s Initiative is a far better card for what the deck wants to do. The deck does a really good job of abusing one of Legion’s Initiative’s most unique aspects: It puts the creatures back into play at the beginning of next combat with haste. This part is incredibly important because it lets you do things that effects like this haven’t done before, and it allows you to make some unorthodox card choices. Be careful: If you activate Legion’s Initiative when your opponent declares attackers, they come back at the BEGINNING of the next combat, so you won’t see them until your next turn and it won’t turn out how you wanted it to.
The most seemingly out-of-place card in this list is probably Magmaquake. Why would you want that card in a creature-based midrange deck? Say you’re playing against an aggro deck and you’ve managed to stall the board. At the end of your opponent’s turn, you activate Legion’s Initiative and your creatures are gone. Next turn, you slam Magmaquake to nuke all of your opponent’s creatures, then enter combat, and have all your guys come into play healthy and hasty. Oh, and you also get all of those sweet enter-the-battlefield triggers. You can do the same thing with Supreme Verdict if you want to throw blue into the deck or make it just UWR. That would also give you access to Lavinia of the Tenth, which would let you detain your opponent’s board and leave them at the mercy of your hasty attackers.
Legion’s Initiative is also a very difficult card to play against. You run the risk of your removal not working, and any aggressive action you take can be turned against you. Even if your opponent swings with everybody, they can still threaten to halt any counterattack you would normally make. Legion’s Initiative is also very mana-efficient, making its controller able to resolve threats while still leaving mana up to activate it. The best way to play against it is forcing them to use it when they don’t want to, which may be harder than it sounds.
Finding a deck that makes optimal use out of all parts of Legion’s Initiative would be ideal, but the viability of that goal remains to be seen. Even so, the card is a beacon for strong synergies and you’ll probably find it in some powerful strategies in the coming months.
Varolz, the Scar-Striped
The moment Varolz was spoiled, I got very excited. My two favorite archetypes are aggro decks and decks with strong synergies, and this card looks like it can deliver on both parts. He adds a lot of utility to any deck and can prepare your normally fragile aggro deck for the late game. His first ability pairs very well with naturally efficient creatures like Dryad Militant, Spike Jester, and Loxodon Smiter. A permanent bonus that exceeds the mana cost is a pretty sweet deal, especially when it doesn’t cost you a card. He even makes cards that already have scavenge better because, in almost all cases, he reduces the scavenge cost. This means that Dreg Mangler, which has been played for its scavenge ability, just gets better with Varolz, the Scar-Striped.
What I really like about his first ability is how well it can synergize with other creatures. My favorite synergy is with Lotleth Troll: You can discard something to the Troll, which puts it in the graveyard for scavenging. This can be good in a situation where you are leaning heavily on Lotleth Troll to win the game because your opponent has very little to nothing that can deal with a regenerating, trampling fatty. Varolz also plays really nicely with Experiment One, letting you gain more counters for regenerating without having to rely on evolve triggers.
Varolz’s second ability offers yet another free sacrifice outlet in our Standard pool. He can fit alongside either of the Aristocrats fairly well, but if you want to go in that direction, I think he would be better paired with Cartel Aristocrat. Trading red for green probably isn’t worth it for that kind of deck, but it would definitely open up some deckbuilding possibilities.
Right now, I really like him in a Junk aggro deck with Experiment One, Voice of Resurgence (a cool one to sacrifice), Lotleth Troll, and Loxodon Smiter. It takes advantage of the efficient Selesnya creatures and resilient Golgari creatures. It makes the deck hard to deal with without sacrificing too much speed, and you don’t usually have to invest a whole lot to the board to have a notable presence.
You can also play Varolz in a Jund deck with cards like Spike Jester, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Pyrewild Shaman. This version would definitely be a lot faster and have better scavenge fodder, but it can be a little bit more fragile. I think Varolz could also be instrumental in a resurgence of GB Zombies, adding a sacrifice outlet that you’re not embarrassed to play with. He would not be the focus of the deck, but an excellent role player when doing Blood Artist/Gravecrawler shenanigans.
Whether it is as the centerpiece of a deck or just a value creature, I think Varolz, the Scar-Striped will find a nice, cozy home in Standard. And look to him in Modern and Legacy in conjunction with Death’s Shadow and Phyrexian Dreadnaught for something really sweet.
Bred for the Hunt
This is the kind of card that really gets my attention. Back when Innistrad was first spoiled, Burning Vengeance immediately attracted me. The cool thing about it was that it was a free two damage for doing something you already wanted to do: using your flashback cards. It acted as an alternate form of removal and as my primary win condition, and I loved everything about that deck. I did fairly well at FNMs with it, but then Dark Ascension came out, the format got aggressive, and I had to give up on it. You can only imagine how sad I was that flashback didn’t return in Avacyn Restored (#stillbitter).
Bred for the Hunt has a lot of the same things going for it that I liked about Burning Vengeance. It rewards you for doing something you already want to do, it’s a cool Johnny build-around-me, and it’s a hard-to-remove card type.
We have a lot of abilities on creatures that give +1/+1 counters: unleash, scavenge, undying, evolve, and even the unnamed slith mechanic that red Vampires use in the Innistrad block. This opens up a very wide range of color possibilities.
In the base UG that you will be playing with Bred, I recommend creatures like Cloudfin Raptor, Experiment One, and Gyre Sage. Cloudfin Raptor is especially good because it’s easy to evolve and has flying, which means easier Bred for the Hunt triggers. Rancor will be an important card for the deck so you can force through damage to ensure card draw. Predator Ooze may not be a bad option if you want monogreen with a blue splash.
My recommendation would be to make your deck BUG, though, to gain access to creatures like Rakdos Cackler, Lotleth Troll, and Varolz, the Scar-Striped. This version probably has the easiest time getting +1/+1 counter threats online and dealing damage, and a lot of the creatures are very resistant to removal. Also, your own removal is stronger with cards like Putrefy and Far // Away. Because it would rely pretty heavily on regeneration, you’ll have to be careful not to play these kinds of threats into a field full of Putrefys. Also, creatures in this color combination tend to be on the weaker end of the spectrum, so you’ll have to lean a bit more heavily on the flexible spell suite.
If you want to try red, you gain access to Stromkirk Noble, Rakdos Cackler (again), and possibly even Savageborn Hydra. You also get burn spells, which will make it easier to get Bred for the Hunt triggers and can help close out a game if your opponent has stabilized. If you want to try white, you can play Gavony Township, Mikaeus, the Lunarch, and Champion of the Parish. The cool thing about this version is that there are multiple cards that give counters to your entire team.
I feel Bred for the Hunt is right on the cusp of Constructed viability, but it could really shine if the format slows down and turns into a grindfest. For now, it wouldn’t hurt to see if it could actually stand up in the face of the high-impact format.
This goes a bit more out there, but Possiblity Storm is part of a hard-lock in Standard when you pair it with Curse of Exhaustion. Before rotation, people played with Curse of Exhaustion and Knowledge Pool to exile the first spell your opponent cast and not let them cast a second one, making them unable to resolve spells for the rest of the game.
This similarly works with Possibility Storm — you have to first make sure you have it in play with Curse of Exhaustion enchanted to your opponent. When they try to cast a spell, Possibility Storm will trigger, exiling that spell. Then, Possibility Storm reveals cards until you hit a card of the same type before attempting to cast it. Curse of Exhaustion, however, only allows your opponent to cast one spell per turn, so they are unable to cast the spell revealed from the Possibility Storm trigger.
It all goes to the bottom of his or her library and the first spell cast never resolves.
This is definitely the type of combo that would be hilarious at FNM, but it may not be too far off from competitive viability. It doesn’t kill your opponent outright, but if you can deal with their board presence, they will be forced to sit there until they concede or watch you resolve some sort of win condition. Make sure to pack plenty of sweepers! Be aware this only affects spells cast from their hand, so they can still use flashback; but unless it’s Ray of Revelation, it’s not going to mean much.
I hope you liked the cards and the ideas in this article, and I hope you get out there and get brewing!
Trackback from your site.