ne of the fun things you can do when a new set comes out is to figure out where brand spanking new (or returning) cards can be utilized to reinvigorate forgotten strategies or elevate existing decks to the next level. This year's core set, Magic 2013 brings with it a number of tools that can do just that.
The answer (at least for this edition of Top Decks) is the beatdown!
Rancor | Art by Kev Walker
In that long-ago summer of 2011, lost to most memories by the swirling mists of time, there was a super-dominant Standard deck called Caw-Blade. Caw-Blade was, simply, the greatest Standard deck of all time. Now, some people didn't like Caw-Blade very much (possibly due to it being so great, especially in the hands of great players), but that makes this story all the more impressive.
So in early June 2011, at the height of Caw-Blade's dominant powers, in the Costa Mesa Women's Center—that bastion of formative Magic that gave us Brian Hacker and his contemporaries in the early years of the Pro Tour—an unknown hero named Adrian Popescu stormed through a Top 8 featuring twelve copies of Squadron Hawk, twelve Stoneforge Mystics, and twenty-five Jaces to take the Pro Tour Philadelphia Blue Envelope...
Adrian Popescu's Green-White Infect
Standard – Winner, PTQ Costa Mesa 2011
Green-White Infect was more or less never seen again on the competitive scene. Infect aficionados of the era switched over, largely, to Green-Blue Infect for Blighted Agent, and earlier this season they typically went mono-black.
But I think a particular spell from Magic 2013 might put this deck—that was capable of besting the best Standard deck of all time at the height of its powers—back into the conversation.
Mike Flores's Proposed Green-White Infect Deck
Titanic Growth isn't quite Vines of Vastwood, but it's the Giant Growth we have. Ranger's Guile is better than it might have looked at first blush, not just because it is an available green pump spell but because it can "Counterspell" a removal card coming in on one of your insane infectors.
There are a variety of other pump options you can go for over Ranger's Guile, Titanic Growth, or Apostle's Blessing. Avacyn Restored gives green two different miracle cards that can flip the game wrong side 'round but quick. First-turn Glistener Elf, second-turn Blessings of Nature gives you an immediate two-turn clock; Revenge of the Hunted in that same spot sets up a terrifying turn-two prospect.
You can consider Ranger's Guile the "Apostle's Blessing" of the main and jam both miracles in over Titanic Growth and Apostle's Blessing. This might be straight-in right... Testing unseen I am a bit apprehensive, though, as the mana base of this deck makes actually casting a five- or six-mana pump spell seem unrealistic.
Another option is Mirran Mettle; +2/+2 for can have some compelling impact, and between the eight main deck artifact creatures + Inkmoth Nexus, setting up metalcraft shouldn't be too uncommon.
But by far the gem of the germ—and the reason for its mention in the context of Magic 2013 brainstorming—is Rancor.
Rancor on the second turn might not be as exciting as one of those miracles, but it is consistent. You can have it in your opening hand and it is awesome, or you can draw it when you don't happen to have a creature in play and it will likely still contribute. Rancor is a brilliant Aura to plop onto an Inkmoth Nexus (one of infect's hardest poisoners to deal with due to its flying over blockers and not being a creature when the opponent can play sorcery-speed removal)... and it will come back turn after turn until the other player is dead. Lost Leonin and Glistener Elf can probably get a good last scratch in even when they are blocked and killed, but Rancor really shines when applied to an Ichorclaw Myr.
You mean that isn't going to die; it's getting bigger front-side, too; and I am taking trample?
I know this probably seems like the height of head-spinning goofballery, but Rancor + Priests of Norn? The decks that Priests of Norn is good against are going to have real problems with the version that can (vigilantly) kill them in three or so swings.
"Four weeks [ten years] ago, Alan Comer showed up at GP Las Vegas with a ten-land deck of Merfolk, cantrips, and a rare from Planeshift that you couldn't trade to even the most impressionable of little kids. One month later it is the most popular deck in the field. It appears the only thing that grows faster than a Quirion Dryad is this deck's popularity."
Alan Comer's Turbo Dryad (MiracleGro)
Extended – GP Las Vegas 2001
In looking into this update I got all excited for a second, as I looked over the first column only. No Gaea's Skyfolk in today's Standard, but there are plenty of two-drops you can play (for example Snapcaster Mage). The loss of Tropical Island is non-trivial but Standard gives us access to Hinterland Harbor and it's not like in Standard you have to deal with Oath of Druids or Illusions of Grandeur.
Obviously, some of the spells are kind of irreplaceable. You can Ponder instead of Sleight of Hand (probably an upgrade, actually) but there is no replacing either the free Counterspells or Winter Orb.
But there are other ways to disrupt an opponent's strategy other than Counterspells, and you can pump up Quirion Dryad just as adequately with red, white, or (especially) black spells as you can blue.
As my old buddy Brian David-Marshall reminded us in last week's "Summer Blockbusters (and Sleeper Hits)," Magic 2013 Standard is going to be plenty full of Despise and Duress to interact with the opponents, even if we don't have Counterspell. For card drawing, Sign in Blood can slot right in; Quirion Dryad—let's be honest—would be happy to buff on an Oblivion Ring.
Zev Gurwitz once proclaimed excitedly that Black Thumb was the best beatdown deck he had ever seen. It was quite a sight in its day—Quirion Dryad getting bigger and bigger as you took out blockers or pulled a key combo piece out of the opponent's hand. Dryads got big enough to take down Morphlings in a fistfight way back when... I am curious to see what route, exactly, gets them to the promised final table in Standard.
Steve Sadin's Counterbalance Flash-Hulk (Billy Moreno design)
Legacy – Winner, GP Columbus 2007
Speaking of "best" anything, Quirion Dryad was a sideboard transformation in Billy Moreno's Counterbalance Flash-Hulk deck (played to the GP Columbus 2007 win by Steve Sadin), which is considered by many to be simply the best deck of all time. While I don't think we can reproduce much from this (best being best and all that), I just wanted to highlight the flexibility of Quirion Dryad as a high-impact tool, even for combo, and even out of the sideboard.
When I think "Mogg Flunkies" I think Hall of Famer Ben Rubin.
Well, to be honest, I was shaking my head in disbelief at Regionals 1998 when it didn't matter how badly you played, a Mogg Flunkies and a Fireblast were going to get you a Blue Envelope (basically the opposite of the age of Caw-Blade), so I think about how frustrating that was as my immediate reaction... but then I think about Hall of Famer Ben Rubin.
Ben's Mogg Flunkies most famously took him to the last table at Worlds 1998, where his 3/3 creatures for two mana were about to outperform some of the best players of all time—he beat five-time Top 8 competitor, former editor of this site, and Pro Tour Champion Scott Johns in the Top 8 and bested Jon Finkel in the Red Deck mirror in the Top 4 before finally being stopped by Brian Selden playing for the title. Selden was an amazing Cinderella story that year... 9th at US Nationals, but, chin up, he broke into Top 8 and managed to get the big one a month later.
Ben Rubin's Sligh Standard – Top 8,
World Championship 1998
Ben's deck is a bit different from some of the other red ones you might have seen, and this speaks to the necessity of building around Mogg Flunkies a little bit differently. Rather than relying on burn spells, you need to have a certain number of creatures to make it all work. Remember, you have the Watchwolf before there was Watchwolf... But he ain't doing nothin' unless he's got a buddy.
Luckily, red has quite a few efficient attackers in Standard just now, some of which can approximate the effects of the 1998 Rubin list, like Chandra's Phoenix, which is like a Ball Lightning in terms of being a hasty three-drop (can get Mogg Flunkies into the red zone even when you didn't have a one-drop). There is no replacement for Cursed Scroll, but if you choose to play enough Goblins you can get in a Goblin Grenade. Here is a sketch:
Mike Flores's Proposed Red Deck Wins
Master of the Pearl Trident is the prototypical, archetypical, glowing neon sign of a creature that is born from Magic 2013 into the world, wrapped in the swaddling clothes of a deck already built all around it, for it. Essentially a better Lord of Atlantis, it would be needlessly reductive to just think of all the places where Master of the Pearl Trident could replace Lord of Atlantis in existing builds (although that would in fact offer an upgrade)... especially when you can just play both.
Here is a Legacy deck played by Pro Tour Champion and Magic Hall of Fame hopeful Tomoharu Saito from the summer of 2010:
Tomoharu Saito Merfolk + Black
Legacy – Winner, GP Columbus 2010
The thing that struck me when I first saw Saito's Grand Prix-winning deck was how many lords he was playing. The deck has twenty Merfolk, but 60% of them are in the 1% of the Merfolk economy, if you take my meaning. Sure, Master of the Pearl Trident is just Lord of Atlantis's better-looking younger brother, but Lord of Atlantis doesn't have a downside unless your opponent is also playing a Merfolk deck. Har har, I think it is hilarious when some guy's Lord of Atlantis gets him killed via a now-unblockable Mutavault, too... but really, it doesn't come up that often.
There are a couple of ways you can approach the problem of "jamming Master of the Pearl Trident into Saito's Merfolk deck" and the most obvious is a strict substitution—this deck was good enough to take down a big event, Saito's path in the Top 8 was an absurd run of Brad Nelson-Caleb Durward-Tom Martell, and even the tiny percent better you get from Lord-to-Master is going to be a net upgrade...
I would argue that if you want to preserve the germ of Saito's Merfolk, the right swap is actually Merrow Reejerey. Sure, you lose Reejery's tapping superpower but you get to never step your Æther Vial off of "2" (where 16/20 of your creatures now exist). If you want to play sixteen Lords, you can. You can shave cards from the spell slots... but this is Legacy and I think you need your disruption if you want to see your second turn or so. I haven't played this build... well... ever, but my sense is that you are either down with cutting Standstill or Standstill is part of the core functioning of the deck. You can play a first-turn Æther Vial, second-turn Standstill and it is pretty much up to the opponent to break it. Æther Vial is going to do what you need for you without ever breaking Standstill and your other cards only ever get cast if your opponent breaks it for you (you couldn't even Daze "nothing" if you wanted to).
Cursecatcher is your only one-drop; you don't want to cut that. Silvergill Adept has a pretty compelling and unique functionality in this deck (ditto). So unless you want to shave off "one of this and one of this" the cut is from among Standstill, Lord of Atlantis, and Merrow Reejerey (and I would lean toward Reejerey).
Unambiguous, though, is that this card will be heavily played in Legacy.
Very often when a new set comes out, we focus on the goofball—if powerful—"flagship" cards (although I do think Battle of Wits is going to be the most fun card in Magic 2013). This time, I just thought it would be fun to think about some of the straightforward strategies where we can see immediate returns on our beatdown brainstorming. Whether we are talking about successful rogue performance in the face of Caw-Blade or two-drops in the hands of a Hall of Famer, other Hall of Famer, or Pro Tour Champion, attack-oriented tools like these look to have a bright future in Standard and beyond.