erusing the Top 8 decks from the post-ban Philadelphia Standard PTQs, it seems pretty clear that Dismember may be a card you want to play in Standard.
Joshua Herr's Vampires
Standard – Winner, Pro Tour Qualifier in Charlestown, MA
Dismember is potentially at its best in a deck chock full of black mana sources (because you have the ability to potentially play the card for three mana and no loss of life), but we will see across multiple competitive nonblack decks that Dismember is proving to be the crown jewel of Phyrexian mana in Standard.
Andrew Roystan's White-Blue Control
Standard – Winner, Pro Tour Qualifier in Columbus, OH
Herr's winner from Charlestown, Massachusetts wasn't really surprising in any way; Vampires was already on the rise before the format was relieved of Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic (plus, Dismember is obvious in a black deck); with Roystan's, we see what kind of music white and blue might make together now that their signature Standard cards are no more.
Back to a more traditional White-Blue Control!
Roystan's Sun Titan can do a couple of different things... It can get a Tectonic Edge lock against the opponent's nonbasics, or it can re-buy Wall of Omens or especially Jace Beleren for lots of card advantage. This deck is actually fairly reminiscent of Blue-Black Control decks we have looked at in recent months, with a ramp up to Karn Liberated, and Wurmcoil Engine on six.
The fact is, Dismember can go into lots of different decks; here is the one Roystan beat in the Columbus finals:
Caleb Durward's Equipster
Standard – 2nd place, Pro Tour Qualifier in Columbus, OH
A former Daily Deck, Durward's Equipster deck looks like it will end up one of the more influential builds of the coming months. If White-Blue Control is a more obvious route in terms of what you might do with your Celestial Colonnades nowadays, Equipster espouses much of the spirit of Caw-Blade, even if the cards are different.
Obviously this is a deck that is still very much Equipment-driven. In fact, Caleb played fifteen different pieces of Equipment in his main deck, and more in the sideboard! There are a lot of neat things going on with this list; one of them is that many of the Equipment cards are living weapons; therefore, even though Caleb only had twelve creatures, it could play as if it had many more because Flayer Husk and Mortarpod double as dudes.
Another is that Trinket Mage kind of does Stoneforge Mystic duty in this deck. While Trinket Mage can't find a Sword of Feast and Famine (and the deck doesn't play Batterskull at all), it can grab Accorder's Shield, Basilisk Collar, Flayer Husk, or Sylvok Lifestaff, plus non-Equipment Mox Opal.
In a deck so brimming with artifacts, Dispatch is kind of a better Swords to Plowshares or Path to Exile (most of the time)... and yet, the deck runs Dismember in the sideboard.
Paul Ewenstein played a deck where the potential life loss from Dismember can actually grow into an asset:
Paul Ewenstein's Black-Green Death's Shadow
Standard – Top 8, Pro Tour Qualifier in Charlestown, MA
In addition to the 2 or 4 damage he might take from a Dismember, Paul could pay himself down even more with the help of Immolating Souleater. Ouch!
Why might Paul want to do that?
In Death's Shadow, Ewenstein played a card that could actually benefit from a lower life total. You kind of have to pick when you play one, but Death's Shadow can be positively huge!
Here is how the first couple of PTQs shook out:
So what is with the many Dismembers? Of the sixteen decks making up these two Top 8s, three-fourths played Dismember. Besides general utility (it's nice to be able to kill a creature for one mana), the biggest incentive is probably a deck like this one:
Kyle Morison's Exarch Twin
Standard – Top 8, Pro Tour Qualifier in Charlestown, MA
Of all the different kinds of creatures that can die to a Dismember, the most attractive has to be a Deceiver Exarch. For one thing, when you're doing it right, you get a two-for-one (respond to Splinter Twin, you nab Splinter Twin); for another, the turn four kill speed of the Exarch Twin combo (turn three when considering a Birds of Paradise version) demands an answer... And because of its Phyrexian color-replacement costing, Dismember is a great option!
It's not the only option, though. Check out Ben Swartz's solution: specialized Spellskites!
Ben Swartz's Blue-Black Tezzeret
Standard – Top 8, Pro Tour Qualifier in Columbus, OH
Spellskite is a great answer to Splinter Twin (you can steal the Splinter Twin when they cast it), and even better in a Tezzeret Deck. I wanted to point out Ben's because of the impressive Kuldotha Forgemaster capabilities. Essentially, you get out Kuldotha Forgemaster, successfully untap with it in play, and figure out how you can win.
For example, you can get a Blightsteel Colossus and win in one attack. You can get a Mindslaver, and auto-win against anyone with a Spellskite. Plus, you have a poison subtheme starting on Plague Myr.
One thing you might have noticed was missing from the PTQ Top 8s was Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle. That doesn't mean that the onetime boogeyman is absent in its entirety! Here are the results from the Poland National Championship:
Tomasz Figarski's Valakut
Standard – Winner, Poland National Championship
Tomasz Figarski is the 2011 Poland National Champion! He got his big gold belt via Valakut.
One thing that we didn't mention last week at Top Decks's first introduction to Urabrask the Hidden in Valakut variants is that—like Dismember and Spellskite—Urabrask is a fine answer to Deceiver Exarch. Even though Exarch Twin can still "go off" by executing its combo during your end step, the fact that all the tokens hit the battlefield tapped makes winning via the combo slower... and when you can go off right back with a hasty Primeval Titan, making the super fast combo deck a little slower is probably good enough.
Wojciech Czerepak's Mono-Blue Architect
Standard – 2nd place, Poland National Championship
Wojciech Czerepak finished second in Poland with this Mono-Blue Architect deck.
This deck seeks to use Grand Architect's power mana production to make big threats like Wurmcoil Engine or Triskelion. Part of that means sacrificing some early-game card quality in favor of "synergy." You'll notice this deck has lots of Thrummingbirds and the occasional Lighthouse Chronologist. Treasure Mage—in addition to playing accelerator—can get you a Mindslaver or one of the huge endgame creatures.
The Poland Nationals Top 8 can be found in its entirety here.
These decks are all new-ish in that they belong to the present, a time after Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic in Standard. But what is really new is M12, and what is really exciting is the future. Successful decks in 2011 largely showcase the best available cards, deploying them with the most efficiency; if Jace and Stoneforge Mystic taught us anything, it is that you want to be playing the best cards (no surprise there). For kicks, I laid out what I think are the top twelve cards in the new Core Set for a little discussion:
2. Mana Leak
3. Primeval Titan
4. Day of Judgment
5. Grim Lavamancer
6. Birds of Paradise
7. Gideon Jura
8. Oblivion Ring
9. Grave Titan
10. Frost Titan
11. Solemn Simulacrum
If Ponder had a one-line description, maybe in a magazine interview or on a job application, it would be "the Preordain good enough to play in Legacy." With Jace, the Mind Sculptor and Stoneforge Mystic banned in Standard, the best card left (pre-M12) is Preordain. Well, here is Preordain's opposite number, back from the departed mists that were M10!
Ponder's immediate impact is going to be seen on the combo front. This card is going to make Pyromancer Ascension better than ever. Who knows what the long-term implications are for the format? Ponder is a better Preordain given the right conditions, but will be less exciting when Misty Rainforest and Scalding Tarn rotate in a few months.
Whether it proves out as the number-one card in M12 may be contingent on the availability of another shuffler. If we have something better than a Terramorphic Expanse available, Ponder will yield more consistent mana on turn one, and dig harder and deeper when you are under pressure; if not, it will probably link arms with Rampant Growth and contribute... but not in the wide and sometimes controversial way Preordain has for the past twelve months.
Whatever I said about Preordain? It mostly applies to Mana Leak, as well (both cards actually took up more Top 8 space than Stoneforge Mystic). Mana Leak is like Standard's great, big, stop sign. Got something cool you want to do? Best make sure it can get past a Mana Leak!
Mana Leak is actually pretty good against most of the other big spells in the set—Gideon Jura, Primeval Titan, and so on—as well as being one of the few reasonable counterspells you can play that is actually useful against the Exarch Twin combo (at least early on in a game). It will appear in Top 8 deck lists for as long as it is legal in Standard.
I think I was a little bit generous to this creature (I am not 100% convinced it is better than Birds of Paradise), but I am pretty sure this is around where most players have it. Primeval Titan is clearly the most powerful of the Titan cycle, and the enabler of Mono-Green Eldrazi and Valakut both. At one point it was the strongest creature in Standard, but unless Valakut reasserts itself the way some pundits originally predicted, I don't know that the jolly green Giant will be able to make that claim, at least until rotations and Innistrad shock the system in a few months.
Day of Judgment
The disappearance of Caw-Blade has made Day of Judgment fantastic in Standard again. We have already seen Vampires rack up some Blue Envelope action, and Day of Judgment is one of the main cards that is great against such swarm strategies. Day of Judgment is a limiting factor for the format in general, strong against Elves and a cause for pause for anyone who wants to run out lots of little guys.
Plus... It's not like you can't take out big guys or just one or two decent monsters; you know, for value.
Grim Lavamancer is one of my favorite returning cards. I think that coming back right now—when the Lavamancer can run in Standard next to Arid Mesa and Scalding Tarn even in a straight Red deck—is such a great opportunity for red mages. This is a card that you have to respect, and have to be aware of. It is a murderer of any straggling small creatures (that matter) and a source of several Shocks. Kill it, or it is going to help kill you.
Birds of Paradise
One of the best one-drops ever, from the first set of the game, is back again with M12. This card continues to perform in a variety of decks, yet manages to be overlooked at times (I think it is probably the lingering memory of Noble Hierarch). The most likely early Birds of Paradise contribution is going to be in Birthing Pod, both progressive card advantage versions and Deceiver Twin hybrids (speaking of which, Birds of Paradise makes the Deceiver Exarch / Splinter Twin combo a full turn faster, while fixing your second red mana); going long it will be a staple... somewhere, just as it has always been.
The only planeswalker on this list, Gideon Jura is almost unbeatable for some strategies. Even the mighty Exarch Twin combo can be held off for a turn by Gideon's "attack me" ability, and Gideon has (again!) performed as both a defender and a potential attacker since the big ban. I don't know if Jace Beleren + Gideon Jura is the best thing you can have set up in Standard right now, but it has to be close.
I might have wanted Oblivion Ring up a bit higher in this list, but if you are going to compare two cards (say Gideon Jura versus Oblivion Ring) you have to give the nod to the active card rather than the answer. It is going to be played heavily in the coming months, but is held in check a little bit in that it is a bit clunky against super-fast / hyper-efficient beatdown creatures like Grim Lavamancer or Goblin Guide. That said, Oblivion Ring is a super-important addition to the Standard format; now we have a legitimate and consistent answer to planeswalkers, or any problem permanent, with relatively little design cost.
Grave Titan and Frost Titan
I was not sure which to have rated higher; my initial sense was Frost Titan due to the nod it has been getting in Birthing Pod decks and Fauna Shaman decks—spots you might assume would be set aside for Primeval Titan given their base colors—but Grave Titan got the very tight better position due to its pedigree in Blue-Black Control.
Frost Titan was, once upon a time, the preferred kill card in Blue-Black Control, but was replaced by the World Championships and kind of never let go; Grave Titan perseveres there, and has lately started to see play in Mono-Black Control, et al. Both Titans are going to continue to be popular, and played in a variety of decks, yet neither is a defining enabler like their green cousin.
Solemn Simulacrum is probably my favorite card in the set, and the old-new card I am most excited to see returning. Quite simply, Solemn Simulacrum has performed at a high level across multiple formats from the moment it was first printed, racking up tournament wins in every role from splashing an extra color to getting you one step closer to some huge number of mana for a defining sorcery to sacrificing itself to deal 5 damage to the opponent's nug. I just want to sit back and see the next Tooth and Nail / Kuroda-style Red / White-Blue Control that that Jens Thoren's Invitational card helps enable or bring to the next level. Really, just one of the best!
You know what's cool?
Turn four Solemn Simulacrum (turn three with an Everflowing Chalice); Titan the very next turn! Great acceleration potential, especially for nongreen decks. Look for this card in the 2011 era to be played in blue control decks where they might have been tapping out for Jace, the Mind Sculptor, and acting as a combination of life gain boost (by blocking) and mini-Mind Spring.
Last and least (at least for this list)—but still ahead of so many others—is Manabarbs. I think this card will prove an important re-addition to the format. It just does so many things, none of them friendly. Once upon a time it hassled white mages with Circle of Protection: Red in play; today, it doesn't even have to beat a Circle.
Manabarbs is the kind of card you can follow an opponent's Day of Judgment with, or use to hold off a massive mana machine, like the operation of Celestial Colonnades or intimidating down the 7-life investment of a Karn Liberated. One of the things I look forward to most is the stories... Blue mages love recounting how they beat a Manabarbs, because it happens relatively seldom. With so many of the best cards in the format boasting five or six up in the right corner, you know Manabarbs is going to have an impact, forcing opponents to think twice or face the consequences. Early prediction: "the sixth Titan," Wurmcoil Engine—the one with lifelink—gets better relative to in-color Titans... just because Manabarbs exists again.
That's my Top 12 M12 list... what do you think?