Standard is as healthy as can be. Most of the decks that have made splashes in the relevant tournaments continue to do so. I want to go over the relevant cards you can be playing at each converted mana cost that matters, starting with one. This is far from an end all, be all summary for these cards, but rather my take on each card relative to the current and predicted future format.
Champion of the Parish: Insane when it’s good, unimpressive when it isn’t. Will continue being a staple. This is a card that makes Humans, and to a lesser extent, B/W tokens, scary. The sheer power of the Champion of the Parish into Gather the Townsfolk is well known by this point. Much like the next card coming up, Champion enables some nearly unbeatable hands. Unfortunately, when you don’t have it in your opener, it’s hard for it to keep up with the rest of the early creatures in the format. That seems to be my issue with the Humans deck in general; When you curve out, you’re capable of simply destroying people. When you don’t, you have to fight a lot harder than the deck may be comfortable doing (though Angelic Destiny can help with that.)
Delver of Secrets: The best creature in Standard for a reason. Delver decks have often been compared to the aggro-control decks of the past. It’s not so much that it’s on the same power level of Faeries or Canadian Thresh, but it behaves similarly in resolving an early threat, protecting said threat, and riding it to victory. There isn’t much outside of the cards that the Delver decks can already play that deal with a transformed Delver. This creature will continue being a pillar of the format in the coming months up until rotation, and maybe even further.
Birds of Paradise/Llanowar Elves/Avacyn’s Pilgrim: Powerful right now, may drop off soon. I grouped these three together because they serve almost the exact same purpose in enabling a turn two Sword, Birthing Pod, or turn three Huntmaster of the Fells or Thrun (among other things.) Having a Birds as a backup Rampant Growth in Wolf Run Ramp is a legitimate plan as well. I don’t think this will keep up, however. There are a ton of early removal spells that can pick these mana dorks off, and I expect these spells to get more popular as the format continues to evolve. If your deck can’t function without them, then you’re in for a world of trouble.
Despise: Great against Wolf Run, but borderline unplayable against everything else. One of the major problems of Wolf Run is not having a threat to cast after hitting four or six mana. Despise is good at making sure that doesn’t happen, especially if they stumble. I’m not entirely sure of it’s applications against any other matchup, but it could be fine against Delvers on the play. I can see myself playing some of these somewhere in the seventy five of a Mono Black or B/x aggro build.
Diregraf Ghoul: One of the reasons why the Black aggro deck is good, but not as good as Delver, Champion, or Birds of Paradise. Having this and Gravecrawler as your one drops is powerful, and they’re the reasons why the B/x aggro decks have legs. You don’t have much defensive capability with either, but the deck’s plan is to push through damage as much as it can.
Dispatch: Still the go to removal spell in Tempered Steel and Puresteel Paladin decks. This won’t change anytime soon, as it’s simply the best removal spell that either deck can play. I don’t think that people utilize the “upkeep, tap your dork” play on the draw enough, however. Being able to trip them up for a turn can be huge for your gameplan.
Doomed Traveler: Fantastic against the decks that care about it, but lackluster against the decks that don’t. Doomed Traveler is best against heavy control decks and Gravecrawlers, and can eat away at your life total if you let it stick around too long. The Wolf Runs, Mono Reds, and Delvers of the world don’t really mind seeing it most of the time. The issue with Doomed Traveler is that if it ever becomes unplayable, it’s hard to just cut it from the decks that play it. B/W tokens definitely want it regardless, but what about Humans? Do you just max out on the Gideon’s Lawkeepers and Elite Vanguards?
Autumn’s Veil: A good sideboard card at the moment, but it may taper off in the future. As long as heavy control decks continue to be a presence, Autumn’s Veil will be important to have in the sideboard. The format may grow increasingly hostile to control decks due to cards like Geist of Saint Traft, Thrun, Gravecrawler, and a simple increase of overall aggressiveness.
Faithless Looting: Awesome in the decks that can abuse it, and will see more play. Currently, Frites can abuse the discarding from Faithless Looting extremely well. In fact, it’s the reason why the deck is real (well, that and Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite.) I wouldn’t be surprised to see this in some Wolf Run builds as well. Consider that the Wolf Run deck needs a certain sequence of cards for it to operate. Faithless Looting helps you see more cards to finish that sequence while throwing away the cards that aren’t a part of the plan. I could also see this in Mono Red as well.
Forge Devil: Underrated, and definitely sideboard worthy. I love this card against the decks that try to do ridiculous things early. Picking off a Delver, Champion of the Parish, Birds of Paradise, or Stromkirk Noble is a big deal. I think the only thing it has going against it is the fact that it’s not very impressive on the play, but I think that it’s something I’d be willing to work with. I’d definitely want some of these in my sideboard if I were playing Mono Red. Even R/G Aggro could use a couple.
Fume Spitter: Same as Forge Devil, but better on the play than on the draw. Black based aggro decks would love to have these I assume. It’s super important to be able to kill these early threats, and Fume Spitter is one of the best cards at doing that. It’s also a morbid enabler for Tragic Slip and Skirsdag High Priest in the Zombie deck.
Galvanic Blast: The best burn spell in the format, and that most likely won’t change for a while. Galvanic Blast has an incredible amount of utility in the early game, and a ton of reach in the mid to late game. I would snap include four of these in a Wolf Run, Mono Red, or even some Tempered Steel builds.
Geistflame: Not very good right now unless you’re Mono Red, which is the only deck I can see playing this in because of Shrine of Burning Rage. You want your Shrines to put out as much damage as possible, and Geistflame is decent at doing that. Even then, it’s much more difficult to pull this off in games two and three due to the instant speed artifact hate. This may change if the format becomes more reliant on their one drops, but I don’t see that happening since Gut Shot fills that role much better.
Gideon’s Lawkeeper: Average, and will get worse. Lawkeeper is decent at holding down Delvers and killing Phantasmal Images, but as previously said, if the format becomes more hostile toward one drops, it won’t be keeping any laws for a while.
Gitaxian Probe: Still as good as ever. There really isn’t much to say about this multi-format all star. The sheer value that you get out of this card is worth the two life or one mana spent to cast it. I don’t expect the Probe to drop off in playability at any point during this season.
Glint Hawk and Signal Pest: The enablers of Tempered Steel. Will still be powerful in this archetype. Tempered Steel is known to completely crush tournaments where opponents decide to soften up on the hate. I think that it will continue doing exactly that throughout it’s tenure in Standard. As a good friend of mine says: “When it’s good, it’s bad, and when it’s bad, it’s awesome.”
Graffdigger’s Cage: Decent. Future unknown. If Birthing Pod decks become a major problem in the format, I can see this having a more welcome home in sideboards. Until that happens, I can’t say that I’m a fan of the Cage. The problem with the card is that it doesn’t do anything when they aren’t doing what it’s supposed to stop. The other hate cards still give you some sort of value on top of it’s primary purpose. As of now, I have no idea how much better or worse it’ll be.
Gravecrawler: Great card, but will get slightly worse. This is the other reason why the black based aggro decks are good. I don’t think it’ll get worse in the sense that it won’t perform as well, but it’ll suffer from the splash hate as people start respecting the reanimator strategies. It will still give you an incredible amount of reach in the mid game, and plays nicely with Phyrexian Obliterator. Respecting the Gravecrawler is one of the keys to doing well in the current standard environment.
Grim Lavamancer: Not great. Will get much, much worse very soon. Grim Lavamancer is simply too slow to handle the plethora of threats it will come across. I don’t think that it’s unplayable, as it’s a solid mid game card to have for reach and picking off Mirran Crusaders and the like. However, it’s between a rock (Delver, Lingering Souls, Strangleroot Geist, Sword of War and Peace) and a hard place (Hero of Bladehold, Titans, Elesh Norn.) I expect it to fall out of flavor, along with most of the Mono Red deck as a whole…
…Though, how many times have some of us said that, only to get crushed by it at the very next event?
Gut Shot: Fluctuating between good and below average. Should get better. This is one of the cards that is going to keep the super fast starts in check (Tragic Slip being the other.) The only problem is when you’re going against the bigger decks that are trying to destroy you with fatties. It may be relegated to the sideboard in the near future, but for now it should be fine.
Mental Misstep: Fell out of flavor due to Spirits and Wolf Run. Will probably have very niche uses. I can only really see myself using this in the Delver mirror, and probably against Humans, as Delver. I admit that I don’t have much experience with the Delver deck as a whole, but being able to not only stop an opponents Delver in it’s tracks, but protect your own on your turn one seems important.
Mutagenic Growth: Seems well positioned, and has the potential to improve greatly. The amount of blowouts that can result from this being resolved is staggeringly high, such as saving your Geist of Saint Traft from a Slagstorm, or saving your Delver or Champion from a Gut Shot or Galvanic Blast. Even pushing through for the last points of damage you need. All of these are huge upsides to having one or two of these in your list. I can definitely see this being used heavily in the future.
Nihil Spellbomb: Currently excellent, and will stay that way. This is the graveyard hate tool of choice for black based decks. It’s the best card for it’s role in the format, but you lose most of it’s value if you can’t find a reliable way to draw a card with it. Cheap, efficient, and has a huge impact against the decks that care about it.
Purify the Grave: Not as good as Nihil Spellbomb or Surgical Extraction, but viable. I would rather have Surgical Extraction if I can’t get the value out of Nihil Spellbomb, but if you want to be able to deal with multiple threats in the graveyard, Purify the Grave does that just fine.
Sanctuary Cat: The most adorable creature ever. Really, how could you not want to pet it?
Stromkirk Noble: Still a huge threat if left unchecked. Will probably get worse. It pains me to give this opinion on one of the breakout cards of Innistrad, but I think it will suffer a good amount from the “one drop hate” cards. If it can get by all of that, however, it will continue to crush opponents that won’t respect it.
Surgical Extraction: Fantastic in control decks. Will get much better. I’m generally not a fan of these types of cards, but Surgical Extraction seems to have everything going for it right now. Getting rid of Nephalia Drownyards, Primeval Titans, and Elesh Norns is important, and I don’t see those cards falling out of favor.
Thought Scour: Fits nicely into some decks. Probably will stay where it’s at. There isn’t much to say on Thought Scour. It will continue to be played as long as the decks it’s being played in are still running Snapcaster Mage and Moorland Haunt.
Tragic Slip: Arguably the best removal spell in the format. Will only get better. I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw this card in the spoilers. I knew that it was going to be one of the cards that answers the creatures that define the format, and it hasn’t disappointed. While cards like Strangleroot Geist and Doomed Traveler significantly reduce the value of Tragic Slip, don’t let that stop you from playing as many as you can in the decks that are in the market for a solid removal spell. As more significant, non hexproof creatures get printed, this card will be more important to have in your arsenal.
Vapor Snag: Best tempo spell in the format. Will stay about the same. There aren’t many situations where Vapor Snag isn’t good, and I don’t think the card can get much better than it’s already been. Even if more hexproof creatures start running rampant, Vapor Snag is just too important not to have.
In the next part of this series, I’ll be covering the important cards with converted mana cost two and three, and their potential in the ever changing standard environment.
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