My goodness, this preview season has been a doozy! And with the first rotation in what feels like years pushing the Battle for Zendikar and Shadows over Innistrad blocks out of Standard, it looks like there’s a wide open metagame just waiting for dinosaurs and pirates to invade. Between new cards and reprints, there’s definitely more than a few cards that could make a splash (merfolk pun intended) in both rotating and non-rotating constructed formats.
Let’s start with one of the most obvious, and most overlooked, components of any Constructed deck. Glacial Fortress, Drowned Catacomb, Dragonskull Summit, Rootbound Crag, and Sunpetal Grove are easy inclusions in any two- or three-color Standard deck, and they see fringe play in formats like Modern and EDH. They also pair nicely with the rare cycling lands from Amonkhet, whose basic land types enable these “check lands” to come into play untapped.
It’s rare that three-mana Planeswalkers don’t find homes in Standard, and I expect Jace, Cunning Castaway to be no different. I believe he could easily find his way into a Temur Energy deck, an aggressive blue-red tempo strategy, or a blue-green merfolk beatdown deck, if those synergies prove powerful enough for Standard.
At six mana, Vraska, Relic Seeker is looking more like a finisher for possible Standard Sultai and Jund Control strategies, or a top-end beater for midrange decks. B/G Constrictor and the Temur Scarab God deck both don’t lose much in the rotation, and Vraska could be tested at the top-end of either (or both!)
Sorcerous Spyglass has been called a better Pithing Needle for two mana. Not only does it shut down any permanent with activated abilities that your opponent might be planning to run out, but you also get to scope out their hand and plan accordingly. It can easily make its way into the sideboard of any deck if Planeswalkers or other threats become too prevalent (looking at you, Bristling Hydra and The Scarab God).
Another artifact I’m excited to test out is Primal Amulet. Not only can this find a home in Standard decks like U/B Control and W/U Approach of the Second Sun, but I believe there’s a place for it in Modern decks such as Storm, where it can provide a cost-reduction effect.
The announcement of two notable blue reprints has had Constructed players buzzing. Spell Pierce is a great soft counter that can see play in both control and tempo-oriented decks in Standard. Opt is a little-known card (until now) from the days of Invasion that becomes Modern legal with its printing in Ixalan. Unlike Serum Visions and Sleight of Hand, Opt is an instant, which makes it a powerful addition to any deck looking to hold up countermagic.
Duress, our favorite not-too-powerful hand disruption tool, is also making a return to Standard. Once again, you can run out a Duress on turn one to scope out your opponent’s hand, get rid of any pesky answers, and begin plotting out your game plan accordingly.
Speaking of great inclusions in black-based decks… Walk the Plank is a two-mana creature destruction spell, the likes of which we haven’t seen since Dreadbore was printed in Return to Ravnica. While time will tell how relevant Walk the Plank’s “non-merfolk” clause will be, a two-mana answer to threats like Glorybringer and Torrential Gearhulk seems like a great inclusion for any heavy black deck. It can easily be slotted into existing strategies such as U/B Control, a deck that can always use more cheap answers to large threats.
Vraska’s Contempt, while no Hero’s Downfall, does provide instant-speed removal where Walk the Plank’s sorcery speed holds it back. At four mana, it might be a little pricey, but being able to answer powerhouses like Chandra, Torch of Defiance as well as indestructible beaters like The Scarab God and Hazoret is no small feat.
This list would be woefully incomplete without some of the splashiest cards in the format. While Ramp is losing its endgame cards like Ulamog and World Breaker, there are some solid replacements in bombs like Gishath, Sun’s Avatar, Verdant Sun’s Avatar, and Regisaur Alpha.
Carnage Tyrant is another prominent inclusion. An uncounterable, hexproof 7/6 is (quite obviously) very hard to deal with. Even red-based sweepers like Hour of Devastation don’t pack enough punch to get this bad boy off the battlefield. I expect him to show up in the sideboards of any green midrange or control strategy, and it wouldn’t surprise me if a copy or two made their way into some main decks, depending on how the metagame shakes out.
Red Deck Replacements
Oh Lightning Strike, how I’ve missed you. Lightning Strike is hands down one of my favorite role-players in the new era of Standard, and having it back in the format provides a huge boon to any red deck. More specifically, this is an upgrade from Incendiary Flow for the Pro Tour-winning Ramunap Red, and makes Soul-Scar Mage much more versatile in those lists.
Another great card for red mages is the one-drop, Rigging Runner. With his Raid ability, you may not want to play him on turn one, but with other powerful one-drops like Soul-Scar Mage and Bomat Courier available, a 2/2 first striker coming down on turn two with one mana left over for Shock seems like some great value.
With so many cards that slot into existing, powerful shells, and even more cards and synergies just waiting for new strategies to be built around them, I’m excited to get brewing. Canadian Nationals is only a few short weeks away, and I have no idea what I’m going to play!
Header design: Justin Treadway
Header art: “Opt” by Craig J. Spearing