Testing My Card Evaluation Skills, Part One

KanyeBest here, ‘famed’ MTG Arena Grinder, guy-who-won-a-Fandom-Legends-one-time, and all around seeker of improvement. I feel as though I’ve made my name, such as it is, off of tuning and playing the best decks in formats to high ranks, and through streaming my gameplay on MTG Arena with these decks. As a player, I thrive when metagames are developed and I can make informed deckbuilding decisions based on an expected metagame – in other words, the opposite of early season post release standard! 

So, for what is to be my first Standard rotation as a competitive MTG player, I’m making an effort to get out of my comfort zone, and do some analysis of card power and what I expect the Standard format to look like, in an attempt to better prepare myself for the chaos of a Week 1 Standard format. With that in mind, I picked seven of my favorite cards from Throne of Eldraine, and tried to analyze where I felt they might fit in a future metagame, and discuss what archetypes they made me want to explore. 

So let’s get right into it with THE BIG GUY:

I’m scared of six mana planeswalkers. I just am. They’re very rarely good, cheap planeswalker removal is prevalent, and they so rarely protect themselves the way they need to against a wide variety of board states. That said, Garruk is close to checking all those boxes.

Garruk has to pass two tests for me to consider him a constructed playable card.

Test 1: Is there a deck that wants to be green and black and tap out for a threat with 6 mana. Basically, is there space in the metagame for a Golgari Midrange deck? 

So, why would there not be space for a deck like this?

  1. Aggro is too fast and you just don’t have the ability to put six-drops in your deck when you’re dying on Turn 4
  2. There are decks that dramatically go over the top of you, and you don’t really have the ability to combat them and also tap six mana for a Garruk the turn you die
  3. Both of these decks kind of exist, and you could tech yourself to beat either one, but not both, and as such you are pushed out of the metagame

Consider the Sultai Midrange decks from the beginning of the Ravnica Allegiance metagame, and how they started to fade once the metagame became too harsh. The aggression of Mono-Blue and Mono-Red and the late game power of Nexus of Fate / Wilderness Reclamation decks stretched Sultai Midrange too thin. Consider further how those decks absolutely fell off the map after the introduction of War of the Spark and how many ridiculous overpowering endgames were enabled by that set (Mass Manipulation, Nexus with Tamiyo, Command the Dreadhorde). 

Those decks adapted by becoming decks with overpowering end games, adding Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Command the Dreadhorde in place of six mana planeswalkers like Vraska or Liliana. Once Field of the Dead and Sorin entered the metagame, G/B/X Midrange decks died entirely because they lacked the ability to combat both the aggressive decks and combo decks.

Test 2: Is Garruk better in this hypothetical deck than Liliana, Dreadhorde General? 

This is hard. I suspect Garruk wins the heads up, and outside of some specific scenarios involving large Hexproof creatures, he will generally be better than Liliana on most board states due to the additional creature he creates. Having an extra body is also good in the face of planeswalker removal, as Liliana leaves behind one 2/2 and Garruk leaves behind double that.

Overall conclusion: If a midrange deck like this can exist, it wants to play Garruk. He is the strongest six mana planeswalker in Standard, and will be a slam dunk if midrange is allowed to exist. I’m cautiously optimistic. He’s the best thing a midrange deck can do in a vacuum, but the context of the format and context of specific matchups could make him worse than he appears. 

Six mana is always a big ask. 

Embercleave comes with some pretty interesting deckbuilding constraints. It wants you to go wide to enable the cost reduction, but it also wants to you have one big creature to benefit from double strike. That leaves you open for one-for-one removal blowouts that are normally bad against a deck that goes wide. There are a few directions you can take Embercleaves, but two come to mind for me immediately.

  1. Some kind of small elemental shell involving Chandra’s Spitfire, Cavalcade of Calamity, Scampering Scorcher and Thunderkin Awakener to go for a combo kill. One thing that occurs to me here is this deck might want to play Infuriate in general, and that Infuriate on Thunderkin Awakener provides some ability to revive Spitfire for surprise lethals with Embercleave. Whether this deck succeeds depends on if the Cavalcade plan is generally strong enough to work on its own, and the Spitfire/Awakener plan ends up being icing on the cake. All-in red decks tend to be fragile, and this won’t be any different, but it’s absolutely something I’m going to try out day one of Eldraine
  2. Gruul Spellbreaker as a hexproof haste beater is a great target for Embercleave. Ten is a lot of damage, and ten damage with hexproof is even better. The question is if the mana for a deck like this exists. With the rotation of checklands, playing Gruul seems like a very questionable proposition. One of the first decks that came to mind in a vacuum for me was some sort of Gruul Haste Tribal deck with Zhur-Taa Goblin, Gruul Spellbreaker, and Questing Beast. 

This, of course, leads us to….

This card has 50 lines of text. All of them seem good, but I suspect the part of it that matters is:

4 mana 4/4 Haste, Cannot be Chump Blocked

Freerolling planeswalker damage is definitely good, as is Vigilance, but the best part of the card is the part where its a hasty beater that swings big and swings hard. This card is pushed, and will be played on power level alone. Is it as good as people think it is? Well, probably not – people seem to think this card is the second coming – but I think it’s likely to be a very good card in Standard. Much has been made about how it’s not exactly perfectly set up as a 4 power creature to kill things like Teferi and Narset, which can pass the turn on 5 loyalty, but how often will that happen? A lot of the draw of a card like Narset was that it ate damage against Aggro decks, which will not be true if those decks are running Questing Beast. Teferi, similarly, was a card that would come down, do a thing, and then accrue value via limiting your opponent’s options, which again, doesn’t seem to be a great play pattern against the thing that hits you and him at the same time. Questing Beast feels strong enough to do the job it was intended to do – neutering planeswalkers – without doing it too well and forcing them out of the metagame. I’m very interested to see how this card influences the Standard format. 

Murderous Rider is obviously playable, and will influence the metagame. Unconditional removal at this cost is incredible, and being general purpose with upside on the back end means that it will be prevalent to the point of ubiquity. This is bad news for things like Feather, the Redeemed, which relied to some degree on just kind of being unkillable vs the maindeckable removal in this format by virtue of being a three mana Legendary creature with four toughness. This card might not be the strongest card in the set, but it is by far the one I am most sure will see play. There might be spots where we aren’t playing four copies, there might be spots where we aren’t even playing two, but this card will always be present in the metagame.

The Golos, Tireless Pilgrim / Yarok, the Desecrator Field of the Dead decks are losing Elvish Rejuvenator, a very important card in the archetype. Fertile Footsteps doesn’t have synergy with Yarok the way Rejuvenator did and searching for a basic land is significantly worse than Rejuvenator’s ability. Still, I am very interested in the creature half in a world where the Field of the Dead decks are losing their main endgame of Nexus of Fate or Scapeshift. There’s room for a low opportunity cost beatstick as part of a more diversified endgame package. 

Beanstalk Giant might not be as efficient as you’d like, at which point you’d rather be doing something completely different. If the ramp shell is built around Yarok as opposed to Golos, this is more likely to be true. The Yarok deck doesn’t need the extra beef when it’s drawing 12 cards off of Risen Reef. However, I am very interested in the curve of Arboreal Grazer/Fertile Footsteps/Golos. This even seems tailor made for a Grazer/Growth Spiral deck, with the mana coming in untapped allowing you to potentially double spell and double ramp. 

This is a good card. I think both halves are being mildly overrated, and I’m not excited to play this necessarily, but it serves a purpose in most red decks. Being the target of a spell is not the same as “whenever this is targeted”. Getting your 4/3 bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler still sucks even if it comes back to hand as two mana Shock. Getting your 4/3 Oath of Kayaed is also hugely problematic. That said, this is likely a playable card at minimum due to its power level, and probably an important piece of Runaway Steam-Kin / Experimental Frenzy decks going forward.

At first, the “damage can’t be prevented this turn” clause struck me as irrelevant. Now I think it’s the single most important part of this card because it gives you an out to Cerulean Drake. Protection from Red causes damage to be prevented, which is actually negated by Stomp!

If Mono-Red is a large portion of the metagame, Cerulean Drake is the obvious answer. In a powerful eight set Standard, having a nearly unbeatable answer to an entire deck is maybe passable given the metagame is full of incredibly strong things. In a smaller, less powerful Standard format, having zero answers to a single card is not something that’s conducive to enjoyable games of Magic.

If a Knight deck exists, it plays this card. Two mana lords are messed up, and if this card doesn’t see play, it’ll be because the deck doesn’t. One of the first things I’m going to try is Mardu Knights. If the mana is atrocious even with Tournament Grounds, I’ll probably circle around to a Knight-based White Weenie deck, which this card also slots into perfectly. I am the most excited to play with this card of any of the ones I have listed, not because it’s the strongest, but because it represents a new twist on the aggressive, creature-based decks that I love. 

I’m so excited for all of these cards, and more than that, I’m excited to be better prepared for Week 1 standard! Hopefully my journey (or adventure, if you will) to better prepare myself is useful to all of you as well. Make sure you follow me on Twitter to keep up with my decklists and content, and Twitch for high level ladder gameplay and Q&A! 

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