tandard is about to undergo some serious changes. Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic will be banned as of July 1, and Magic 2012 will become legal shortly thereafter. Today, I'd like to talk about some of the M12 cards that have already been announced and discuss their place in my latest Standard brew. I'd also like to discuss a few cards that are already Standard legal that may have been overlooked in the Caw-Blade metagame.
Kor Spiritdancer strategies haven't been explored in Standard since the initial launch of Rise of the Eldrazi. Players quickly realized that Jace, the Mind Sculptor just happened to be one of the best anti-Aura cards ever. Jace, the Mind Sculptor was so powerful in a vacuum that many competitive decks started playing four copies. With that knowledge, deckbuilders quickly forgot about one of the most exciting rares in Rise of the Eldrazi.
Luckily for us, a few readers recently contacted me and asked if I could start working on a Kor Spiritdancer deck for the new Standard. The idea intrigued me and I decided that I would get to work. I did a few quick gatherer searches and decided that the correct way to build an aura based deck is probably going to play many auras that interact with the opponent and not many auras that enchant our own creatures. Dismember has become a regular inclusion in just about every standard deck. It seems silly to offer up juicy two for ones when we can play powerful auras that give our opponent less opportunities instead of more.
Kor Spiritdancer will be the core of this deck. It will function as a card advantage engine, and opponents will be forced to deal with it immediately if they don't want to be buried underneath an avalanche of card advantage. Currently, I think it's better to focus on interactive Auras, but we never know what new tools the deck might receive that allow it to play with Auras that pump our creatures. The effect of Kor Spiritdancer allows a deck like this to quickly rifle through its library and find an answer to whatever shenanigans the opponent might be trying pull.
Magic 2012 reintroduces Auramancer to the Standard arena. Auramancer may not look like much, but the card advantage it creates pushes this deck further into the realm of competition. Picking up a Volition Reins from the graveyard after your opponent already had the misfortune of running a planeswalker into it will often be enough for your opponent to concede on the spot. Creature-based strategies will have fits when you Mind Control their biggest creature and trade it with their next fatty. The next turn you can cast an Auramancer and make things even worse for them. It may seem silly to get excited about an obscure card like Auramancer, but looking for gold in a coal mine has been the key to creating some of the most powerful Constructed strategies in the history of the game. (Illusions of Grandeur?)
Kor Firewalker may seem a bit out of place, but I wanted another two-drop, and I felt like this deck could have trouble with mono-red strategies. Including a full playset of Kor Firewalker will probably make our Game 1 very strong against the red decks. Dismember will be a problem after sideboarding, but we can always sideboard in a healthy dose of cards that make the match-up significantly better. It's also worth noting that Kor Firewalker is quite good against decks that lean on cards like Slagstorm and Pyroclasm. It's important for our deck to present a clock when our opponents sit back and don't cast their spells. Kor Firewalker lets us do this quite easily. There are other two-drops that are better against non-red decks, but the new Standard seems to have plenty Pyromancer Ascension, Valakut, Splinter Twin, and Mono-Red decks. All the suspected major players in the field play red, and this gives us an incredible opportunity to capitalize by playing an anti-red card in our maindeck.
Sphinx of Jwar Isle is the ideal win condition for this deck. It won't be necessary in some games, but this list looks like it may have some trouble closing games when an opponent's deck has more reactive cards than proactive cards. For this reason, I wanted to include one or two copies of an evasive creature that presented a quick clock when we needed it to. Looking at the top card of your library may not seem like a very big advantage, but it can often let you know when it's correct to draw cards with your Kor Spiritdancer instead of casting something else. If there's a Volition Reins on the top of your library and you're losing to Karn Liberated, then it's going to be better to cast a Pacifism on your own creature to draw the Volition Reins than it would be to cast just about anything else.
Pacifism fills its role perfectly. The deck needed removal, and getting that removal in the form of an Aura makes our Kor Spiritdancer that much better. The new Standard format will probably have a good number of aggressive decks. Against these types of strategies it's important that we have inexpensive spells that prevent them from establishing too much of a board presence. Players have often counteracted Pacifism effects with bounce spells. Your opponent's creature returns to his or her hand, and your Pacifism goes to the graveyard. Luckily for us, we have Auramancer to ensure that we always end up ahead in these types of exchanges.
Spreading Seas is probably my favorite card for the new Standard. I'm going to confidently shove four copies of this card into every blue deck until the new Standard format becomes more established. Spreading Seas is going to be one of our strongest cards against Valakut and Mono-Black. Spreading Seas becomes even more impressive when played alongside Kor Spiritdancer. Drawing two cards for two mana is downright unfair. Drawing two cards for two mana and getting a positive effect out of it is even more unfair. It's important that pilots of the deck remember that Spreading Seas can be effectively used on your own lands when your deck's mana doesn't cooperate. There are going to be times where it's turn four and you only have one blue mana available. You have a pair of Mind Controls in your hand, but a Plains in hand means you won't be able to cast them unless you draw an Island off the top. By casting Spreading Seas on your own land you'll be able to freely cast those Mind Controls and set yourself up for a Volition Reins if you do draw an Island.
Mind Control is a card that gets much better in the absence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Not only do we no longer need to worry about getting the stolen creature bounced back to our opponent's hand, but now we have much juicier minds to control. Jace, the Mind Sculptor strongly discouraged players from battling with expensive creatures that didn't have absurd "enters the battlefield" abilities. Now that Jace is gone, players will happily play cards like Baneslayer Angel, Phyrexian Obliterator, and Wurmcoil Engine. There's no doubt in my mind that we're going to be stealing some pretty impressive beasts.
Volition Reins is the reason I wanted to go ahead and build this deck. Titans and planeswalkers will continue to do well in Standard for a very long time. These are the most powerful cards available, and it makes sense that deckbuilders would build reactive strategies that recoup and pull ahead by resolving these types of spells. Volition Reins punishes players for leaning too heavily on these powerful spells. Stealing an enemy planeswalker and activating its ultimate isn't out of the question. Players will have a very difficult time knowing when it's going to become safe to cast their top end. The truth is, it may never be safe.
Dismember has become the premier removal spell of the Standard format. Most decks in the new Standard will likely have anywhere from two to four copies of Dismember in their 75. Dismember is a great removal spell in general, but it really shines against Deceiver Exarch strategies. This deck will have a lot of trouble beating Deceiver Exarch / Splinter Twin combo decks, and I want to make sure that we're not just completely cold. If you haven't tried Dismember yet then I highly recommend you take it for a spin. Paying 4 life may seem like a steep cost, but killing almost anything for a single colorless mana at instant speed is well worth it. I've had such great success with Dismember that I'd like to start this deck off with at least three copies.
Mana Leak is one of those cards that seems like it just fits everywhere. I know that isn't true, but I find myself including it a lot more often than one might expect. Valakut and Exarch Twin are forced to play different games if you have a few counterspells in your deck. You can force people to play differently even though you only use two slots in your deck to make room for countermagic. After sideboarding you can up your amount of countermagic and punish them for making the assumption that you don't have a lot of it.
Here's the main deck when we put all the cards together.
Standard (as of July 15, 2011)
Flashfreeze is going to be a must-have sideboard option for any blue deck in the new Standard. Valakut decks will be upgrading to Rampant Growth and no longer have to fear the Caw-Blade menace. Hard counters are especially good against Valakut decks. Remember, Valakut only has a few cards that actually matter. If you're able to deal with their Green Sun's Zenith and Titans then they're going to have to work very hard to kill you with Valakut activations. I'm not saying it's impossible for them, but it's very difficult when their lands are being hit with Spreading Seas and Tectonic Edges.
Sphinx of Jwar Isle is our strongest card against a few different strategies. Personally, I really like siding in an extra copy of this almost all the time. The extra copy in the sideboard is going to be a nightmare for opponents who didn't see any Sphinx in the first game. Opponents will sideboard into a plan that's well equipped to deal with the Kor Spiritdancer half of your deck, only to be crushed by a 5/5 flier with shroud.
I really wanted to include a single copy of Eldrazi Conscription in this deck, but I just couldn't find room. I figure there will be some match-ups where we want to take out more cards than we're putting in. For these match-ups, I feel like a single copy of Eldrazi Conscription is fine. It's just absurd to think about the things that happen when you cast this card. Anyone who played with Sovereigns of Lost Alara knows that this effect, even at eight mana, can be absolutely backbreaking against opponents that don't have a spot removal spell right away.
The deck will struggle with red decks after sideboarding. The Kor Firewalkers in the main deck will be enough to give us an advantage in the first game, but red decks will have access to Dismember after sideboarding. Condemn seems like the perfect card to help us here. We just need some more cheap removal spells to stop the bleeding in the early game. If we're able to deal with Goblin Guide, then our powerful late-game spells will probably be enough to close the deal.
Domestication is a great card against the Elf decks that have been running around recently. Those decks probably won't be going anywhere, and I feel like this card has a lot of applications in the sideboard here.
I'm also going to include a few Mana Leaks in the board so we can go up to four in the appropriate match-ups.
Here's the final list with the sideboard.
Standard (as of July 15, 2011)
Kor Spiritdancer is a fun card that's going to get a lot better with the absence of Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Magic 2012 may still have a few tricks up its sleeve that make Kor Spiritdancer even better. (Remember, the Card Image Gallery on the M12 Minisite is updated daily.)
I hope you enjoyed this exploration of the potential of a presumably overlooked card like Auramancer. Core sets have become more powerful in the past few years, and I'm sure that M12 is no different. If you haven't already, you should look up the location of your local Prereleases and make plans to attend and be one of the first people to play with cards from the latest core set.
Remember to hit the forums or shoot me an email with any comments or questions regarding the new Standard.