We’re in “the lull” right now; the time between sets where nothing too relevant is happening. This is odd considering US Nationals is scheduled to happen this weekend, but sadly the format is hardly relevant for people looking to speculate on the future of the Standard format. With Scars of Mirrodin on the horizon, there are a lot of potential pickups to consider. I’ll avoid the typical Stoneforge Mystic plug here, but I do have something to say on the issue that hasn’t actually been discussed enough. More on that in a bit.
Starting with the rares of Zendikar, Armament Master is a card that was first brought to my attention by an article on Quiet Speculation of all places. It follows the popular Value Bear formula, in which a 2-drop 2/2 does its job admirably while giving you extra value for the price. It’s hard to argue with value bears, and I’ve found that most of the value bears that look good, tend to be good. Armament Master gives Stoneforge Mystic a new angle entirely, since you don’t have to go get a ridiculous bomb like Behemoth Sledge.
On that note, be on the watch for a Bonesplitter-type equipment in Scars. You’re looking for a low mana cost, low equip cost equipment that can combo with Master and Mystic. Both are Kor, so you will get tremendous value out of cheap equipment.
Continuing the Kor trend, consider Conquerors Pledge as well. With an active Armament Master and an Eldrazi Monument (which is now required hardware for any Aggro deck in this writer’s opinion), Pledge suddenly feels like Sarkhan Vol‘s ultimate ability. Also consider Nomads Assembly, but the difference between 5- and 6-mana is very large indeed, especially if you’re mono-White with no ramp.
Cosi’s Trickster is a card I’ve loved for ever, but it’s never gotten any serious consideration. I built up a Merfolk Aggro-Control deck on a whim, and while I’ll be the first to admit that the deck was not tier 1,I saw massive potential. The deck literally loses nothing but Path to Exile[card] when Shards/M10 rotate, and [card]Cosi’s Trickster was totally ridiculous with Path. Even post-rotation, Trickster is a consideration in the deck. Fetch Lands and Fauna Shaman are all so ubiquitous that you can guarantee the Trickster will end up getting you some extra value. The fact that she can take all the Tribal bonuses makes it the one-drop of choice. The deck uses 8 lords, 10 counterspells (Spell Pierce, Mana Leak and a couple Cancels), as well as using Sejiri Merfolk and other good Merfolk. Folks, the deck could be real. Lullmage Mentor didn’t make sense in Zendikar, and it takes one good Merfolk in Scars block to make the deck real.
As a corollary to the Merfolk theme, consider Lullmage Mentor and Merfolk Sovereign, which can both be had around “league minimum” on MTGO. Coralhelm Commander isn’t quite so cheap, but he is the lynchpin of the deck. Sick card is sick.
World Queller is a more speculative consideration, but the effect is undeniably powerful. With the ridiculous Bloodbraid Elf decks leaving the format, World Queller ought to see some play, maybe only as a one-of in Naya Shaman decks, but if there’s another similar effect or some good artifact mana, World Queller could fuel a Stax-style deck in Standard alongside Lodestone Golem, Mana Leak, Spell Pierce, etc.
Looking at Rise of the Eldrazi, one card that really caught my eye was Devastating Summons. We are hoping for at least one good piece of artifact mana, beyond the Everflowing Chalce type, and ideally something more similar to Grim Monolith or Thran Dynamo. Anything that taps for 3 is abusable with Volatic Key, and Wildfire is still in the format. While you’d have to sacrifice 6 lands for the Elementals to survive the blaze, the interaction is enough to perk up my ears at $0.15 each.
Realms Uncharted is another card that seems to be living in obscurity, and has massive potential. Again, we literally have no idea what sort of lands will show up in Scars, but don’t forget that Grim Discovery still exists. While Grim Discovery is not Life from the Loam, it is a value card in the extreme. By ensuring that you always get 3 lands you need, you can set up some broken interactions with lands like Halimar Depths. Another Cloudpost-style land could make an appearance, and if Cloudpost itself returns, Realms Uncharted gets even more compelling. Once again, with the card at league minimum, you could take a risk and lose almost nothing.
Tajuru Preserver is my favorite sleeper card of the format right now. Decks using Destructive Force will have fits over this card, as he dies after saving all your lands. If you build him into a tribal Elf deck, to abuse Nissa Revane/Eldrazi Monument, you can even tutor him up with Fauna Shaman (also an elf). Preliminary work with the Tribal Elf deck has been promising, and the ability to tutor up an answer to Destructive Force is very good. He also has similar utility in Extended, where you have a more versatile tutor in Elvish Harbinger.
The other rare Elves merit consideration as well. Elvish Archdruid is still ridiculously good, and the deck no longer has to run infinite lords to stay competitive. Eldrazi Monument is, as mentioned, very good with Nissa Revane, since you will never run out of things to feed the heathen Old Gods. The Monument helps your elves protect your planeswalker, who eventually will win you the game outright. Joraga Warcaller was pretty awful when Bloodbraid Elf was a part of the deck, but now it merits consideration as well. You can just play one to tutor up with Fauna Shaman.
Along the Tribal lines, consider Vampires again. People get a certain stigma about Vampires; that they’re a kiddy tribe, that they don’t have the tools to compete, that they will die without Nocturnus. We know a few things about Mirrodin, but we know that there are Vampires there. Again, we’re not looking to be handed an entire linear tribal theme for Vamps, although that would be incredible. We’re looking for one or two good new cards. Please stay away from Captivating Vampire as your lord-of-choice. He’s a fine 2-of, but the ability is not exactly what the deck needs. Black has the absolutely broken Nirkana Revenant, some of the best removal in the game, and a great suite of disruption. Liliana Vess is very powerful, Mind Sludge is pretty absurdly scary against any deck that taps out on turn 5, and Duress can help break through Cancels, Mind Sculptors, and other such Blue treats. Eldrazi Monument is, once again, your Lord of choice. Too bad there’s not a Vampire that can come back from the grave every turn like Bloodghast. Oh wait. Too bad there’s no way to get additional advantage out of a dying Vampire every turn, like Kalastria Highborne. Oh, snap. See where this is going?
The deck is not necessarily tier 1, but we have no idea what’s in Scars and both of those creatures are inexpensive. I can’t stress enough just how good Nirkana Revenant is. Using Liliana Vess to tutor up a Revenant and a Basilisk Collar has ended many games for me, and you can even use Grim Discovery to recur lands for Bloodghast, rebuy a Revenant, and other dirty tricks. Mono Black has some really interesting tools, and I’ll have my eyes squarely on building the deck when I know what Scars has. In addition to Mono Black, I’m excited by Elves, some sort of Stax/Sphere type deck using Lodestone Golem and World Queller, and Merfolk. We have an inkling that Scars might contain some Tribal themed cards, so pay special attention to existing tribal cards. I can’t wait to see what the set looks like!