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Theros Standard Staples
Feature Article from Adam Yurchick
Adam Yurchick
9/10/2013 11:00:00 AM
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Card spoilers from the upcoming Theros set continue to impress. The set is poised to be one of the most exciting in memory, and it is still not even half spoiled. The power level on some of these new cards is incredibly high, and many have multiple applications and abilities. Some of these new cards are breaking new ground, and they will take time to be fully understood. Figuring out how to exactly use these new cards will be a challenge for deckbuilders and players in the coming weeks and months.

Theros also has its fair share of efficient spells and creatures that are bound to become staples of the new Standard format. These cards may not be difficult to understand, but their impact may be farther reaching than first apparent. Today I am going to share the cards I've identified as staple cards; role-players that fill a certain niche. These cards tend to show up in most decks that can support them, where they serve a supporting role to various gameplans.

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 Chained to the Rocks
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Magic MTG Card Chained to the Rocks Magic MTG Card
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At the low price of a single white mana, Chained to the Rocks is a removal spell with a power level comparable to Swords to Plowshares. As an enchantment, Chained to the Rocks must be cast at sorcery speed, but this is a small disadvantage when looked at in terms of the format. Chained to the Rocks is head and shoulders above about any removal I've ever seen in Standard.

Chained to the Rocks requires play in a red deck, but the existence of dual land makes the card more accessible overall. The card will surely help propel a new breed of Boros aggro, the deck best poised to abuse the removal spell's efficiency. Chained to the Rocks also appeals to players splashing the Boros guild, such as UWR control complete with eight red dual lands. I would not be surprised to see many different decks stretch to support Chained to the Rocks.

Right when I was started to miss Dissipate and was accepted the fate of playing the strictly nerfed Counterspell that is Cancel, Theros delivers Dissolve. Dissolve is simply a Counterspell with a “Scry 1” tacked on. An awesome ability like scry makes me feel a lot better about paying that extra mana. I really could have used a card like that back in Time Spiral block, where Cancel was a staple in my Blue Pickles Morph deck. The scry ability has the awesome function of smoothing out draws, and it often eliminates situationally irrelevant cards from the top of the deck. Control decks in particular absolutely love this ability, especially in a deck where every land drop hit powers up future Sphinx's Revelation even further. Scrying is a very reasonable ability on its own, and makes the idea of spending mana on a Counterspell all the more appealing, as Dissolve is sort of a hybrid counterspell/card drawer. Dissolve is to Cancel as Condescend is to Syncopate. Syncopate and Cancel seem to strictly played in strict necessity when they are the best option available, but Condescend is widely considered a good card, as Dissolve should be. Dissolve will see plenty of play during its course in Standard, where it will exist as a staple Counterspell for the blue control decks.

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 Hero's Downfall
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Hero's Downfall says exactly what it will be used for: “destroy target creature or planeswalker.” These abilities are among the most desirable in any card, and combining into one creates a stellar removal spell. Killing planeswalkers will be particular importance in Theros Standard. All of the new planeswalkers look to be playable, and Standard is already saturated with them. Craig Wescoe continues to talk about the power of the aggressive white planeswalkers Ajani and Gideon, both prime targets for Hero's Downfall. The new star of Theros, Xenagos, the Reveler, is going to be an absolute menace, and Hero's Downfall will do a lot to keep it in check. Hero's Downfall has a lot of general appeal and will be great against nearly every opponent; it destroys creatures from aggro decks and planeswalkers from control decks. While Standard has a card with the same abilities, Dreadbore, Hero's Downfall only requires commitment to one color. The real draw is instant speed, which puts Hero's Downfall into a higher class of spell. The color black has just got a lot better in Standard. The 1BB cost of Hero's Downfall, which is not necessarily easily splashable, will be pushing a lot of players into the darkest of Magic colors. Hero's Downfall will surely be a Standard staple for the next two years.

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 Thoughtseize
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While on the color black, I cannot leave off Thoughtseize. More so than anything on this list, Thoughtseize is going to be some sort of staple card in Standard. The card is proven, and has a strong tournament pedigree that ranges from its original Lorwyn block constructed tournament all the way to Vintage. The loss of life is certainly a cost, but Thoughtseize is not for the faint of heart, and it does require careful play. Those without experience playing the card will easily grasp it if they have played with black discard before. All B discard pales in comparison to Thoughtseize in efficiency and power. Thoughtseize also rarely misses, something other discard cannot claim.

Thoughtseize is best when one wants to trade off with opposing cards. Thoughtseize offers a way to deal with cards in their hand that might not be able to be dealt with otherwise. For example, Thoughtseize would be a great card for a nonblue control deck, which can lean on the power of Thoughtseize to deal with spells that would otherwise require countermagic to deal with. Thoughtseize does not actually do anything in itself to advance the board or a gameplan, so it is not for every deck. In many cases decks that play Thoughtseize should simply play a card that progresses their own plan, such as another aggressive creature.

Thoughtseize should not just be jammed into the maindecks of every black deck in Standard, but jamming a set into the sideboard of every black deck in Standard is probably a fine place to start. Thoughtseize is an ideal sideboard against control strategies, where Thoughtseize can be used to preempt cards like Sphinx's Revelation, Supreme Verdict, and planeswalkers, cards that are otherwise difficult if not impossible to deal with. Thoughtseize is quite flexible, and it can be used in many situations against many opponents. Thoughtseize is a sure staple during its Theros Standard life.

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 Lightning Strike
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Not to leave the color out, lest it get all tempered and jealous, Theros also has plenty of new tools for the red mage. Lightning Strike is not exactly new, but a Searing Sear by any other name would still burn as hot. Lightning Strike should be nice familiar territory for those who played red over the last year, and it will continue to be the best bang for the buck in terms of damage-to-mana ratio. Just how good Lightning Strike will be depends on the toughness of creatures, but creatures in Standard look to be quite robust, and dealing three is going to be important. One target of note is Kalonian Tusker; it provides two devotion towards a color well-equipped to abuse the mechanic along with attractive stats, and will be seeing a lot of play this year. The all-purpose burn spell, Lightning Strike is a sure staple.

To go along with Lightning Strike is an old favorite, Magma Jet. Magma Jet used to be one of the best burn spells around, and it certainly was a staple in its Standard format. Magma Jet used to see plenty of play in the old extended, along with some fringe play currently in Modern. The power of Magma Jet is high for Standard, and it should find a welcome home there. Scry two is very useful and is comparable to actually drawing a card. When looked at in this light, Magma Jet is an ideal burn spell and something I would look to start in every red deck. Magma Jet will be particularly fun in decks other than monored. Boros and Gruul Aggro which will love the added consistency to their draws, while Izzet control decks will feel right at home scrying with Magma Jet.

The types of mana available defines a format, and often it is the color green that has a huge role in defining this mana. At this point in the spoilers the green section section has some very interesting mana-producing two drops.

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 Satyr Hedonist
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Satyr Hedonist is an interesting little fellow, and it holds great potential. The ritual ability is a rare sight on a creature, and it should be thoroughly explored while available. Three red mana for the price of one is a great deal, and the two mana boost can accelerate out more powerful spells. One of the most attractive aspects of Satyr Hedonist is that it is much more flexible than a mere ritual. As a 1G 2/1 it fits the requirements of being a solid early drop that is capable of getting aggressive or trading off against attackers. Being a creature makes Satyr Hedonist fit harmoniously into a creature deck for a variety of reasons. Of particular importance, creature status makes Satyr Hedonist play very well with the Gruul colored planeswalkers. Domri Rade and Xenagos, the Reveler in particular benefit from the creature status. As an example of the potential power, Satyr Hedonist can be used to power out a third turn Xenagos, the Reveler. In the same role, Satyr Hedonist can be used to power out Garruk, Caller of Beasts way ahead of schedule, which can be used to dig for more rituals. Satyr Hedonist seems quite good when combined with cards that make up for the card disadvantage. Rakdos's Return stands out, while even Sphinx's Revelation is not off the top. Satyr Hedonist is going to be utilized in Standard, and I look forward to seeing how.

Sylvan Caryatid does not stand out as an extremely powerful mana accelerant, especially after Standard being spoiled by the great G one-drop acceleration that has been available for the last two years. Sylvan Caryatid does produce mana of any color, which is pretty desirable, and in that role is a strict upgrade on Utopia Tree. Sylvan Caryatid is more expensive than Birds of Paradise, but it offers a significant upgrade. As a defender, Sylvan Caryatid has a sizable 0/3 body that will stand up to the most popular and commonly played aggressive two-drop creatures. Sylvan Caryatid removes one of the common pitfalls of mana acceleration creatures, which is that they are vulnerable to opposing removal. Hexproof makes Sylvan Caryatid a much more reliable source of mana. Cheap removal spells that would normally be excellent against acceleration become extremely poor. The hexproof ability also makes Sylvan Caryatid a powerful hexproof body in its own right. Creatures like Invisible Stalker and Gladecover Scout have proven to be extremely deadly and reliable in conjunction with auras. Sylvan Caryatid will not offer the same aggressive power, but it offers the same reliability when enchanted. I can see Sylvan Caryatid operating as the backbone of some aura-focused deck that relies on the hexproof body to carry important enchantments. Half of Theros is yet spoiled, and I would be surprised if the other half does not contain a great enchantment for Sylvan Caryatid. Sylvan Caryatid will only get better as the format develops and additional expansions are released.

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 Steam Augury
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I could not finish this article and leave off Steam Augury. Deceptively similar to Fact or Fiction, it adds an Izzet touch and flips around the decisions. The controller makes the pile, the opponent chooses one. In this sense it is much like Gifts Ungiven, but rather than tutoring for specific cards it offers a unique and random assortment of cards every time. In terms of raw power as a card drawer, on average it is going to yield 2.5 cards, a pretty good rate. It is not going to be particularly useful for finding a particular, obvious card to the opponent, such as that wrath to Stave Off defeat, but it will be great in many game situations. It opens up the dialogue with the opponent for some serious Mind Games, bluffs, and every sort of “Jedi” mind trick, and should be a good time. Steam Augury is going to take some playing with to truly understand.

Theros also contains its fair share of sideboard staples. There is a cycle of color-hoser cards in Theros that are set to be staples. Each card only targets its own color, but they are quite effective against that color. The most notable of these is Gainsay, which counters any blue spell. This card was a staple when it was printed back in Planeshift, and blue is just as good now as it was back then. It will be a staple of control mirrors, as well as a way for blue aggressive decks to combat the powerful blue control cards.

Glare of Heresy is an efficient and clean answer to a variety of white permanents, including Boros Reckoner, Detention Sphere, Craig Wescoe, and the white planeswalkers.

Dark Betrayal is a niche card. It must compete with Hero's Downfall and other removal, but it could see play in sideboards if black creatures are a dominant force in Standard.

Peak Eruption is a rare glimpse at three mana land destruction in Standard. The three damage added on is a crazy rate and makes Peak Eruption just as much a burn spell as it is a land destruction spell. It will be best when used against red dual lands like Steam Vents from a control deck. Peak Eruption is going to be particularly useful as an answer for Chained to the Rocks. This may also be useful in red mirrors for denying access to expensive cards like Stormbreath Dragon.

Hunt the Hunter features the fight mechanic, which makes it look like a limited sideboard trick. If Domri Rade has proven anything, Hunt the Hunter may very well be useful in Standard. At the cost of one mana Hunt the Hunter is quite efficient as a removal spell. The power and toughness boost is also capable of dealing extra damage to the opponent. Hunt the Hunter is excellent for green decks that may not otherwise have access to removal. If aggressive and midrange green matchups become the norm, Hunt the Hunter may prove to be useful in Standard.

In gold, Destructive Revelry stands out as a premium Naturalize with a great aggressive benefit for the Gruul deck. Destructive Revelry is all but a strict upgrade to Naturalize for decks with access to the mana. With enchantments and artifacts being a key feature of Theros, Destructive Revelry will play a star sideboard role.

Theros is going to be in Standard for quite a while, and like every set it has its own share of staple cards that will help to define the format. The next half of the set spoiled is sure to contain more staples, along with who knows what else. Stay tuned to magic.tcgplayer.com for the latest information.

-Adam



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