Top 100 Standard Cards Leading Into Theros
Magic players like lists. As a whole, we are a rather logical and analytical group, and organizing things into lists helps to make sense of the chaos that is Magic: the Gathering. Take for example the decklist, the gold standard of Magic: the Gathering. These obscure lists of numbers followed by words and names are completely unintelligible to anyone not in the know, but to the Magic player they read like a holy scripture. A grueling Magic tournament that took place over an entire day or more is boiled down to a handful of decklists. The careful planning, tricky plays, haymakers, topdecks, the drama of a tournament may seem impossible to recreate, but the decklists provide a real glimpse of the events that transpired in the tournament hall.
The Magic article, regardless of the subject, often boils down to the decklist. Writers often joke to their readers to just scroll down to the decklist, while many a troll will complain if a particular article does not fulfill their hunger for a decklist. This is not far from the truth, and there are a large number of people who simply skim articles for the decklists; we've all been guilty of it ourselves, at least I have. The point is that decklists can be very valuable, and they provide a great way to make sense of a very complex and difficult game.
There are other sorts of lists, and Magic lists need not be restricted to decklists. Things such as spoilers are lists, and they seem particularly important when new sets come out. The Gatherer on the Magic mothership that contains every card ever printed is just one, searchable list, a database. There is yet no spoiler for the next set, Theros, as that will have to wait until the set draws even closer. That does not mean I cannot start talking about Theros, and in fact that is just what I will be doing today.
With Innistrad block Standard waning into its final weeks as Theros approaches, it is a good time to start thinking ahead to the future. There is still plenty of Standard to be played (lately I have been playing Standard two or three times a week, at the local Great Lakes Game Emporium or the legendary Mr. Cards & Comics), but that format is as it is and will not be changing before it bites the dust. Preparing now for Theros will provide a leg-up on unprepared competition come October. While Theros and the cards it brings will certainly make a huge impact on Standard, it is quite likely that the biggest drivers of the new Standard will be the existing cards from Return to Ravnica, Gatecrash, Dragon's Maze, and M14. Today I will share my top cards in Standard in preparation for Theros, the cards that will define Theros Standard, especially while the format is fresh and not yet well explored.
Any sort of subjective “top ten” list is prone to bias. I have played Magic for 14 years, and I have developed all sorts of crazy ideas. Additionally, every individual has their own unique and varied experience playing with particular cards, which certainly impacts their perception of these cards. The experience of playing with a particular and versus playing against a particular card is also interesting to think about.. I will not be focused on rating the cards in a specific order, as more important is the fact they are in the list, much like a decklist has no true order.
As a benchmark, and accordingly a way to remove some of my personal bias, I am using the TCGplayer.com Standard Hot 100 list. This is the list of the top non-land cards played in Standard decklist in the tcgplayer.com Standard deck database. Because the database is primarily composed of Top 8 tournament decks, the list should provide some insight into the winningest cards in the format. The list has its own bias, and the top cards are there because of how they interact with other cards, many of which will not be around in Theros, but the list still provides a great picture of the best cards in the format. I will only be looking at the Return to Ravnica block and M14 cards. Looking at the M13 and Innistrad block cards, the list seems to be pretty spot on. Thragtusk in the top spot followed by Huntmaster of the Fells and Bonfire of the Damned speaks to the state of the current Standard format. The next three, Boros Reckoner, Voice of Resurgence, and Thundermaw Hellkite, are similarly format defining. If those cards are the control group, then the list should be pretty accurate for helping my predictions.
The top future Standard card is Scavenging Ooze. Seeing this here is no surprise, as Scavenging Ooze holds great power and potential. This was once a special Commander deck card, but being Legacy legal, it was quickly adopted into that format. Now that it is Standard and Modern legal, it has been quickly adopted in large numbers. It is a defining feature of the new Standard Jund deck and Kibler RG deck, while Josh Utter-Leyton and co. utilized a full playset in their Modern Rock deck at the World Championship. On paper, Scavenging Ooze is a powerful graveyard hate bear reminiscent of one of my old favorites, Withered Wretch. Scavenging Ooze is similarly effective in the role of graveyard hate, but the real power of Scavenging Ooze lies in the rest of the ability. It efficiently grows in size at instant speed, so it has much more impact and power than the typical bear. It works best in wars of attrition and in decks with lots of creature removal, similar to Tarmogoyf. The lifegain is just gravy. In a format defined by creatures, which the future Standard will be, Scavenging Ooze has a lot of potential and should probably see play in every deck with green mana.
Boros Reckoner is the highest Return to Ravnica block card on the Hot 100 list. This creature made an enormous wave when it entered Standard last winter. I was preparing for Pro Tour Gatecrash, and it was a centerpiece in our testing process. Flash forward to the Pro Tour, and there were playsets of Boros Reckoner in half of the Top 8 decks, including both finalists. To quote Dars Gostok in the flavor text, “Imagine a thunderstorm that's also a tactical genius. That's him.” That sums up the card pretty well. Boros Reckoner completely changes combat because whatever it takes it dishes back out, and it often creates a two-for-one and/or a tempo advantage when it is destroyed by damage. Optional first strike makes it even better and all the more difficult to play against. It is hard to block effectively, and it is an extremely effective defender. Boros Reckoner is also very ripe for abuse, take Blasphemous Act as an example. In future Standard I see Boros Reckoner finding a home next to another card in my list, Domri Rade. The hybrid nature of the card allows it to find a home in a variety of decks, so I am sure it will play a big part in Theros Standard.
Supreme Verdict is the highest RTR card in the Hot 100, and for good reason. This all-purpose removal spell has power that harkens back to an earlier age. The “destroy all creatures” ability can be seen all the way back in the first ever Magic: The Gathering set, Alpha, on Wrath of God. “Wraths” have defined formats for years, and will continue to do so for as long as there are creatures in play. Creatures are far more powerful now than they were in Alpha, and as such even more important to kill. Newer creatures sometimes have built in resistance to wraths, and often wraths sit on the sidelines because a player would rather simply use their own creatures than kill the opponents', but wraths are a very powerful tool that always define the formats in which they reside. Supreme Verdict has helped to define the current Standard format, and it will help define Theros Standard.
Among the next few cards in the list are two that share the Azorius guild with Supreme Verdict. Azorius Charm and Sphinx's Revelation are two cards that work very well together along with Supreme Verdict, a trifecta that form the backbone of the Azorius control deck. They have been a part of the various Azorius control decks in Standard for the past year, and they were also a dominant force in the block constructed format. I spoke highly of Azorius Charm when it was released, and it has gone on to fulfill my expectation as an efficient multi-purpose spell for control decks. On the other end of the spectrum, Sphinx's Revelation is a huge source of card advantage and control haymaker that ends the game upon being cast. A fair comparison is a card like Cruel Ultimatum. Sphinx's Revelation is going to be one of the most powerful cards in Theros Standard, while the UW-based control decks it will find a home in will be among the best in the new format.
The next standout on the list is Domri Rade. As a planeswalker, Domri Rade has advantages that other cards long for; being a three mana planeswalker, it is truly special. Domri Rade has a slew of abilities that shine in a world of creatures, especially in a creature deck against other creature decks. Domri Rade has been seen in a variety of decks, including Eric Froehlich's Top 8 deck from Gatecrash that put it alongside Boros Reckoner. Currently Domri Rade shines in the Kibler RG aggro deck that has risen as a dominant force in the twilight of Innistrad Standard. Domri Rade is poised to be a centerpiece of many a creature deck in Theros Standard.
While I am on the subject of red and green creature decks, I go to a card that sits at 30th on the top 100 list, Burning-Tree Emissary. This creature creates mana when cast and is effectively free to cast from turn two onwards. Burning-Tree Emissary has had a huge role in Standard since release, and it has done a great deal in defining the nature of the format. Burning-Tree Emissary is a very effective threat for aggressive decks, and I expect to see it a lot over the coming year of Theros Standard.
Sitting between Azorius Charm and Sphinx's Revelation in the top 100 is Ghor-Clan Rampager, a card that pairs very well with Burning-Tree Emissary and Domri Rade alike. Ghor-Clan Rampager makes attacking a very profitable proposition, and it does a great job of making opposing blocks a terrible proposition. This trio of cards speaks to a very powerful RG aggressive deck. Looking at my list as it stands, I Foresee UW control and RG aggro being two great places to start working for Theros Standard. Both decks are proven entities that play the most powerful cards available.
Going farther down the list are two more cards that are important for their respective archetypes.
For the red and black decks, Rakdos Cackler stands out as the best cheap aggressive creature in the format. With the loss of the two-powered zombies in Innistrad Block along with Stromkirk Noble, Rakdos Cackler is now the two-powered one drop of choice. This is very desirable for aggressive decks, and will find a home in a variety of black and red decks, including the aforementioned RG aggro and the inevitable monored deck alongside Boros Reckoner.
The blue control decks need a planeswalker or they would be envious of Domri Rade, so we turn to Jace, Architect of Thought. It sits lower on the Top 100, down in 84th, but the 20 copies that made the Top 8 of RTR block Pro Tour Dragon's Maze speaks to an even greater power. Jace, Architect of Thought doubles as a way to combat creatures and a source of card advantage. Planeswalkers are quite powerful in every format, and they shine in decks filled with removal and disruption that protect them. Jace, Architect of Thought is a natural fit for the UW control deck, and if the block Pro Tour is any indication, Jace, Architect of Thought is going to be a huge player come October.
That brings us to a total of ten cards, ten cards that are poised to define Standard going into Theros. These cards will have to compete with the new cards, along with existing cards that might get a boost from the new set, but the reality is that the new cards have to prove themselves to the existing proven entities, and not vice versa. Theros will have its work cut out for it.
Moving beyond the Top 10 are a variety of support cards. It is very noticeable that the range between 20 and 50 of the Top 100 is composed of a lot of removal and disruption. Mizzium Mortars, Doom Blade, Putrefy, Abrupt Decay, Dissipate, Selesnya Charm, Boros Charm, and Detention Sphere are among the most efficient and popular disruption and utility spells in Standard. Sitting at 51 is Syncopate, which as a flexible Counterspell, may be the best of this bunch, and will be one of the best cards in future Standard, especially seeing as Cavern of Souls will be absent. Essence Scatter is absent from the Top 100 but I expect it to be front and center come October. These are all top-of-line spells that are very unlikely to be bested by Theros spells. I expect that group of cards to be among the most highly played disruption over the next year.
Sharing that second quartile section of the list with the disruption is a lot of role-playing creatures. Present creature that will be no more come October are Flinthoof Boar, Invisible Stalker, Snapcaster Mage, Strangleroot Geist, Champion of the Parish, Stromkirk Noble, Blood Artist, and Augur of Bolas. That is a veritable who's who of Standard creatures, and comprises a list of the creatures I seem to come up against again and again when playing Standard. These cheap creatures define decks and Magic in general.
A lot of the best creatures in Standard seem to be leaving, which leaves a big void to fill. Theros will fill some of the void, but there are some existing cards that will step up to the plate. The top creatures on the list that will be legal in October are the aforementioned Scavenging Ooze, Boros Reckoner, Burning-Tree Emissary, and Rakdos Cackler. One pair of creatures that will surely play a huge part in Standard are Voice of Resurgence and Loxodon Smiter. These are efficiently costed creatures that are proven. These creatures are also anything but vanilla, and provide additional advantages. Voice of Resurgence plays very well against removal, while Loxodon Smiter is a natural foil for Counterspells and more importantly is larger than anything else available at the same mana cost.
There seems to be a real need for efficient creatures with so many role-players leaving, so I will delve deeper. As I look down the list, before long I see Advent of the Wurm and Experiment One. These are two more powerful creatures that could see play in a variety of decks. I mentioned Rakdos Cackler as the best red and black one-drop in the future Standard, and I now see that Experiment One is the best green option. Dryad Militant is another two-powered one drop that is now among the premier creatures in Standard. GW Aggro seems to be shaping up a powerful Standard deck to compete with the RG and UW decks that will also exist. Not surprisingly, a GW Aggro deck featuring all of these green and white cards I've mentioned was seen at the block Pro Tour, winning the whole thing in the hands of Craig Wescoe.
Honorable mentions to Chandra, Pyromaster, Garruk, Caller of Beasts, Far // Away, and Angel of Serenity. These are very powerful cards that may help to define the future Standard format, but they are not as universal as the other cards on the list.
If my analysis of the TCGplayer.com Hot 100 Standard list is accurate, then Theros Standard will look a lot like Return to Ravnica block constructed, with top decks to match. This is usually the case for new Standard formats, and over time the format evolves and more is discovered and more cards are released. Based on the available mix of creatures and removal, some sort of Golgari deck also looks powerful. I've read that Golgari Aggro helped define the metagame and testing process for many teams leading into Pro Tour Dragon's Maze, while Castellon made the Top 8 of that with a four-color green midrange deck without the help of Scavenging Ooze. I recommend checking out the Top 8 decklists from that event as a starting point, but be sure to mix in any potential M14 cards to the mix.