How the Titans Ruined Standard

Feature Article from Frank Lepore
Frank Lepore
9/28/2011 9:31:00 AM
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I know I usually do deck techs, but every so often - every three months or so, to be exact - there is a stagnation in the format due to MTGO being behind paper in regards to set releases. Innistrad won't be released for another couple weeks, so I can't really focus on Standard, and the Modern banned list doesn't go into effect until October 12th, so I can't really focus on Modern. In layman's terms, the formats on MTGO right now are irrelevant because they're in the “in between” stage. That being the case, I wanted to focus on something that I believe everyone has felt at one point or another, but was really cemented for me at the prerelease this weekend.

What I'm referring to is the fact that the Titans (Grave, Frost, Primeval, Inferno and Sun) have essentially ruined Standard. But that's not all. They have limited design space in such a way that competing cards continue to be printed, despite the fact that they are immediately rendered irrelevant before they even come off the press. That's a somewhat vague and generalized statement, so let's consider that my thesis to expound upon.

In this article I'm going to go over each individual Titan along with the cards they currently obsolete and explain what they specifically “did” to ruin the format.

We'll start with the Titan that got me thinking about this entire problem:

Frost Titan

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So I had just finished a match at my prerelease last weekend when I showed someone how I had just won my game: Skaab Goliath! In case you were unaware, this guy is insane in limited as a 6/9 trampler is incredibly hard to deal with in Innistrad. The point is that some people hadn't seen him before, and upon seeing him, my friend Jacob Naccarato made the comment that the Goliath could possibly be good enough for constructed!

For a second I thought about it, and heck, even agreed with him! But then it hit me: why would you ever play this over Frost Titan?

The answer is you wouldn't. And then it hit me. This is the real problem with the Titans. You have no reason to play another large, game ending blue creature, and at one point Frost Titan peaked out at around $20. Every blue creature that sees print lives or dies on the back of how it stands up to Frost Titan; it is the standard for big, blue monsters. To be honest, the only real creature that trumps this guy right now is Consecrated Sphinx, but that really ruins the point I'm trying to make here. Besides, as far as six-power ground pounders go, Frost Titan is still king and is seeing a ton of play in any Birthing Pod deck that has blue in it..

I did a search for blue creatures that had a casting cost over five and there were only around twenty. This isn't that many really and most of them were “limited only,” but there were definitely some that might see play if they weren't being held back by Frost Titan and Consecrated Sphinx. On my podcast, Untapped, I discussed how I didn't think it was impossible for Phyrexian Ingester to see some constructed play; I mean after all, this is the perfect removal for a blue based control deck that was looking to remove a Titan. Even if they kill him you've gained value! That, and he was printed in the same block as Venser, which should have been just bonkers! Other contenders?

-Sturmgeist
-Mirror-Mad Phantasm
-Djinn of Wishes
-Sphinx of Uthuun

To be fair, it's hard to say right now that the first two “haven't seen play” since they very well might. I just have my doubts. In fact, in regards to Sphinx of Uthuun I was completely convinced he was good enough to play until someone casually said to me, “I kept wondering why that guy wasn't seeing play, then I remember, ‘of, Duh, Consecrated Sphinx is just better.'” Derf. Of course it is. I didn't even realize it at first, because I was so mesmerized by Fact or Fiction!

Anyway, you get the point. In truth Frost Titan isn't the worst perpetrator of this crime, and in all fairness, Consecrated Sphinx is more of a limitation than Frosty right now, but they're both guilty and if Consecrated Sphinx was removed, people would just go back to Frost Titan. The point I want to make here is that the Titan cycle was a mistake to reprint. The next Titan is much more stifling to his colored counterparts...

Inferno Titan

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This guy is the worst. Definitely worse than his frosty brother, this guy has stifled the playability of a ton of his red kin. I'm going to start with a list this time, simply because it's longer and I want you to get an idea of what I'm talking about.

-Balefire Dragon
-Charmbreaker Devils
-Falkenrath Marauders
-Flameblast Dragon
-Furyborn Hellkite
-Hellkite Igniter

And from M11:

-Ancient Hellkite
-Magma Phoenix

I like all of those cards from a flavor perspective and even the ones that cost seven mana might be immensely playable if not for Inferno Titan simply trumping them. In fact, when I first saw Kuldotha Flamefiend, I had the same reaction as I did about Skaab Goliath: Wow, this guy is really solid!A 4/4 for six that deals four when he comes into play?! ...but then I once again realized it's just worse than Inferno Titan. Inferno Titan does that without sacrificing an artifact...and every turn after...and he pumps...and he's a 6/6. I mean, I get that one is an uncommon and the other is a mythic but these aren't even in the same class with one another! The question I keep asking myself, is “shouldn't they be?” The answer is actually no, but the Titans do something that we were told mythics would not do and that is act as staples of their card type. The mythics are just that.

Now we're not talking archetypes here. What I mean is that you can't say, “well, Red Deck Wins doesn't want Inferno Titan, therefore you can still play red decks without having Inferno Titans.” This is of course true, but we're talking about the fact that the Titans obsolete every card in their class. Cards in their “class” are those I mentioned above: large finisher type cards that fill a niche. Lotus Cobra had no other cards in it's class and needed to be built around. Same with Vengevine. Same with most Planeswalkers.

I could see Balefire Dragon really being a force to be reckoned with. I mean for one more mana you get a 6/6 flier that kills your opponent's Titans. But this means it takes an extra turn to play and in that extra turn - what with attacking and whatnot - what the Titans do is far too powerful to ignore. I could see Charmbreaker Devils really being the centerpiece of a fascinating spell based deck that looks to remove blockers while attacking for nigh infinite damage, but then you'd simply have to ask yourself, “is all this work worth more than an Inferno Titan?” In the end, it's probably not.

Let's move on to the next one...

Grave Titan

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Man, is this guy a damn nuisance as well. I mean, geez, do you know how many black creatures this guy is keeping down right now? Let's take a look:

-Bloodgift Demon
-Carnifex Demon
-Chancellor of the Dross
-Geth, Lord of the Vault
-Massacre Wurm
-Reaper from the Abyss
-Rune-Scarred Demon
-Sheoldred, Whispering One

This is probably going to be the most extensive list out of all the Titans. The reason is that black creatures are usually big and scary and are great for finishing games. Monoblack Control builds are the perfect testament to this. Unfortunately the only creature that's necessary for such a task is...you got it: Grave Titan. He's a one man army. He's good against aggro, providing tons of bodies, he's good against control, also because he provides tons of bodies, and he's black which makes him a little more resilient to removal.

But Grave Titan isn't only blanking creatures. Take a look at Moan of the Unhallowed. This makes two 2/2 zombies for four mana. Well, for two mana more you also get a 6/6, with Deathtouch, that will make the same 2/2 zombies for you and more every turn. What's the point of Moan when you have Grave Titan waiting in the wings.

I'm not sure I'm illustrating my point properly, so let's try this.

Imagine if you will, a world where Grave Titan didn't exist.

You're trying to build a Bx deck (that's black, and another unknown color). What finisher do you look to? It's not so easy now, is it? Now you have a ton of options! Massacre Wurm is awesome, but if they aren't running many creatures, well, then he's not so good. Against a deck like tokens, even Carnifex Demon might make the cut! Bloodgift Demon is great against control, but he might be too slow against the aggro decks. You see how now we're forced to make a lot more decision?

There was a time I was really excited to play Geth as a one-of finisher in a black deck. What an awesome ability, reanimating your opponent's artifacts and creatures! Unfortunately, the day never came. Geth has since sat by the wayside, never again to resurrect a corpse or relic.

Ironically the next Titan is actually the most balanced...

Sun Titan

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This is hard to imagine from a 6/6 vigilance that “rebuys” you a permanent every turn, but let's think about it:

-He's easier to kill than Frost and Grave Titan
-He's usually getting things back that are less powerful than “Arc Lightning” and “Moan of the Unhallowed.”
-He doesn't enable degenerate combos over multiple formats like Primeval Titan.
-If you happen to have no perms in the graveyard he's pretty vanilla.
-You have to have multiple things in the graveyard for his ability to be consistently relevant.

All in all, Sun Titan is strong, but he doesn't actually push out the other cards in his class. People are still excited to play cards like Geist-Honored Monk, Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite, Baneslayer Angel, Archon of Justice and Sunblast Angel. Those creatures all do things other than what the Sun Titan does. Those cards all have very unique abilities that all fit a particular strategy. What strategy do Inferno, Frost and Grave Titan fit into? #Winning.

I hate to say it (or am I thrilled to say it? No matter...) but Sun Titan is the least offensive of the bunch and I'm not sure he can even be accused of degeneracy. The fact of the matter is that Sun Titan actually needs to be built around. Not too terribly, but he does need you pack some relevant permanents that cost three mana or less into your deck, otherwise he's a somewhat underwhelming 6/6 for six.

Sun Titan is the Titan I believe we have least to discuss based on the fact that he's good, but not actually overpowered. If they ever reprinted part of the Titan cycle, like they did with Leyline of the Void in the new Leyline cycle, then I think Sun Titan is a perfect fit.

Finally, let's more to the consistently most-expensive offender...

Primeval Titan

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As soon as Primeval Titan was spoiled he was one of the most exciting Titans. The rest were exciting as well, but Primeval promised to do some things that were...truly degenerate. And boy has he lived up to that promise. Primeval Titan singlehandedly enabled decks like Valakut in Standard, one of the most dominant decks in the format before Caw-Blade, and 12 Post archetypes in Modern. This is including but not limited to Monogreen 12 Post, Breach post with Through the Breach, and UG 12 Post. In addition, another tier one archetype that was centered on resolving a Primeval Titan was Eldrazi Green. 12 Post is even a force in Legacy!

All of the above strategies were possible due to degenerate lands, such as Eye of Ugin, Eldrazi Temple, Coudpost, Vesuva or Valakut, but none of them would be anywhere near as degenerate without the aid of Primeval Titan; he was their enabler. There is a reason that Magic, as a game, only allows you to play one land per turn. This is “fair” as the more mana you have access to, the more powerful things you can do. Now the fact is that right now, the best thing you can do is perhaps cheat Gavony Townships and Kessig Wolf Runs into play with big Prims, but the fact that Primeval Titan exists means that we have to constantly be on the look out for lands that can produce unhealthy effects when you have access to multiples. Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle dominated Standard for quite some time, until Caw-Blade came along and dethroned it. Then 12 Post had a pretty strong grip on the Modern format until they went ahead and banned Cloudpost, after having initially banned Valakut already!

But take a look at some of the creatures he's holding back

-Chancellor of the Tangle
-Essence of the Wild
-Liege of the Tangle
-Vorinclex, Voice of Hunger

These are all very unique, powerful creatures that take a backseat to Primeval Titan's power level and efficiency. I mean, who wants to pay eight mana for Vorinclex to double your mana, when Primeval has already swung for twelve damage and searched up four lands (!) in that time? No one who wants to win a tournament, that's for sure. I challenge you to find a green creature that costs six mana or more that has made the Top 8 of a major tournament in the past few months, excluding Avenger of Zendikar.

Heck, Avenger of Zendikar was an amazing creature! So was Gaea's Revenge! But those guys only saw play alongside the land boost they received from Primeval Titan (except in TurboLand).

Oh yeah, did I forget to mention that Primeval Titan also has trample? Of course he does. The fact is the power of Primeval Titan's power is restricted simply by the power of the lands in his environment, and ironically enough, all the powerful lands this gentleman can exploit have been banned in older formats. That has to say something, I believe.

The Titans are basically “strategies in a can.” They're Swiss army knives of creatures. They bring their own strategies to the party and each one aside from Frosty is no less than a two-for-one if it ends up getting removed. But by that time the damage is usually done. If your card pool is such that you have to ask yourself every time a new set is release, “well, is this card better than X?” with “X” being the same card every time, something might be wrong. This is to say nothing of Wurmcoil Engine, which is the 6th colorless Titan!

That's all I have for this week. I'm not sure how you guys feel or whether you'll agree with me or not. Maybe you guys love playing with the Titans and feel they're an amazingly flavorful and strategic part of the game. I can't say I'd feel the same way, but I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments. Thanks for reading and I'll see you next week!

Frank Lepore
@FrankLepore on Twitter



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