MTG Cards that I will miss (and not so much miss) After 2020 Standard Rotation
Update: August 3, 2020 — Banned Banned Banned!
Wotc announced that 3 of the cards I wrote about in this article have been banned. See their post here: https://magic.wizards.com/en/articles/archive/news/august-8-2020-banned-and-restricted-announcement. I find it a bit unusual that they decided to ban cards that were so popular and have been around for so long, but they offer a pretty good explanation in the article: it’s experimental.
- Teferi, Time Raveler — The protector and destroyer of jank is finally dead. Long live Teferi, Time Raveler! This is a big change since he’s been banned in all Arena constructed formats. The philosophy of bannings has changed, and now he’s even more banned than Narset.
- Wilderness Reclamation — Perhaps it really was too powerful for its own good.
- Growth Spiral — Is this the most unassuming card to ever be banned? If everyone is as sick of ramp as I am, it makes sense.
I am personally glad that Cauldron Familiar was banned too. I never played with that card, and it’s a pain in the ass to play against, and it wasn’t rotating either. Sorry, kitty lovers.
Now that Core set 2021 is upon is, we’ve reached the point in Magic: The Gathering’s standard format where we we’ve seen all we’re going to see before set rotation. I’m taking this time to look back on impactful cards that are going to rotate once Zendikar Rising comes out, provide some analysis, and reminisce a bit. I’ll talk about cards that I was a personal fan of regardless of their power level, and I’ll of course discuss cards that had a big impact on the game whether I liked them or not. This is by no means a complete list, and I only talk about cards that I have a lot to say about or have stories about. I’ll have a long list of honorable mentions at the end, though.
The four sets that will be rotating are Guilds of Ravnica, Ravnica Allegiance, War of the Spark, and Core Set 2020. I’ve been playing MTG off and on since more or less when it first came out. I played the Duels of the Planeswalkers solo campaigns in 2013 and 2014 back when I had an Android, and Magic Duels on iOS. Once Magic: The Gathering Arena came out, I became a hardcore MTG player, and now I play almost every day. I mainly play standard constructed, but I play a lot of limited as well. Anyway, onto the cards discussion.
Guilds of Ravnica
Niv-Mizzet, Parun has the distinction of probably being my favorite Magic: The Gathering card ever, and I know I’m not the only person that feels that way. I like everything about the card from the art, to the gameplay, to the character of Niv-Mizzet himself. In fact, we’ll see him again on this list.
When I first started playing MTGA, I only played one deck which was a blue red spells deck. Little did I know how underpowered that was and remains to be in the current metagame. I didn’t even have Niv-Mizzet since I hadn’t opened him in a pack, and I wanted to hold onto my wildcards once I figured out you could actually craft cards.
Once I finally got ahold of him though, I did everything I could to make him work. He is a very powerful card individually — there’s no denying that, but he’s had major problems even before the 2019 standard rotation since he could be killed by a Ravenous Chupacabra or bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler without taxing your opponent at all. Since he costs 6 mana, and you can’t even always play him on turn 6 because of his awkward cost, this is a huge tempo (and probably game) loss. To me, he’s like the little card that could… you need to survive to turn 6, cast him, and untap with him. That’s always been a huge ask in Standard. Cards that cost 6 mana need to do something right away or have some way to protect themselves, and Niv-Mizzet doesn’t do either of those things. Apparently he was a limited bomb, but I didn’t get the chance to play the Guilds of Ravnica limited format where blue red spells with Niv-Mizzet would be a strong deck.
Niv-Mizzet isn’t the only guild leader card that seems powerful on its surface, but just can’t quite stand up to the power level or efficiency of a lot of other cards in standard. Aurelia, Exemplar of Justice and Rakdos, the Showstopper are two cards in this family that come to mind. They are powerful individual cards, but you need to untap with them to really get their value. Rakdos is a bit different in that he can be a one-sided board wipe, but there aren’t that many other Devils, Demons, or Imps worth playing, and he’s risky to play anyway since you could end up wiping your board and not affecting your opponent at all, so he never really took off.
Another problem that he has is that in order to really go off with him, you need a lot of cheap spells. A deck that runs a lot of those can easily be overpowered. While you’re casting 1 and 2 mana card draw spells, your opponent is killing you by turn 6 in the original standard, and probably around turn 4 of 5 now. All that being said, in those games where I did get to untap with him with a Goblin Electromancer and maybe even a Guttersnipe or two in play, It was fun killing an opponent from 17 life with pings and other incidental damage and card draw. Sadly, that just didn’t happen all that often.
One thing I will say about Niv-Mizzet is that he has found some competitive success in some interesting spots. He’s pretty good out of the sideboard in Bo3 (I really only play Bo1) since he punishes control and counter-heavy decks so well. Apparently he’s had some success in the new Pioneer format, and he was a good sideboard card for Temur Reclamation before Uro took over his slot. He is great with Wilderness Reclamation since you don’t have to untap with him to get his value anymore, assuming you or your opponent have instant or sorcery spells to cast. He’s also probably the best card to play against the popular Simic Flash, a deck that I’ll discuss later. He was never all that popular, so popping him out against a Simic Flash player that was holding up counterspell mana felt particularly good, and he was almost unbeatable at that point unless the opponent could kill you right away.
Maybe Niv-Mizzet will find his spark and come to Zendikar, but that seems unlikely to me. Unfortunately, all of the Ravnica sets are rotating out, so we may not see Niv-Mizzet for a while, but there’s no doubt we’ll be back to Ravnica some day.
Other related cards that I don’t think are worthy of their own section include Arclight Phoenix which saw a lot of success before blue red spells became way too underpowered. Sadly for me, I didn’t open or craft any before the 2019 rotation. Crackling Drake and Pteramander were fun cards too, and played nicely with Niv-Mizzet.
The Surveil Package
I think that Thought Erasure might win the title for the most hated card at any one time in MTG, at least from Guilds of Ravnica onward. While I was playing blue red spells, I certainly hated it since it would usually take something very impactful. Back before the 2019 rotation when Esper was basically unstoppable, you’d see this card played on every turn 2, and I used to think it was overpowered. I’ve even seen some random posts from a while back calling for it to be banned.
Now that I know the game a lot better, and at least in part because of the 2019 rotation, Thought Erasure doesn’t seem all that powerful… it’s mostly just a one-for-one that doesn’t impact the board. I had also come to hate Disinformation Campaign, and while that does give legitimate card advantage unless your opponent is empty handed, it’s also not very powerful in today’s format. For a while after playing blue red spells, I switched to blue black surveil. I fell in love with the cards that I had once hated… especially Thought Erasure. As a newer player, I think that I mostly just liked looking at other peoples’ decks, and almost as the art implies, Thought Erasure was a good window into that. I probably annoyed the hell out of a lot of people following up Disinformation Campaign with Thought Erasure or a Nightveil Sprite activation, winning the card advantage battle. The sprite is the only free, repeatable source of Surveil, but a 2 mana 1/2 flyer gets run over in way too many match ups. It was more manageable when control and spells were still able to contend with aggro, but that’s mostly not the case anymore.
After playing with the deck for a while, I learned a lot about Magic, and cards are not always as powerful as they first appear. With the crazy amount of card advantage engines available in current standard, trying to run anything that seeks to drain your opponent of resources is a losing battle, but at least before Throne of Eldraine, it was fun while it lasted.
Dream Eater in particular was a very fun card, and I’ve run it in a lot of decks. A double activation with Yarok (who I’ll discuss later) was awesome, and I’ve dug myself out of many a losing situation with multiple bounces and trading the Dream Eater’s 4 power for something scary. Dream Eater reminds me a bit of Niv-Mizzet in that it’s a 6 mana card that’s powerful on its own, but just can’t quite stand up to the demands of the current metagame. If a card costs 6 mana, it basically has to say “you win the game,” and while Dream Eater does a lot of stuff, it honestly doesn’t give you any card advantage… just tempo, which is a problem for something that’s 6 mana. I will have fond memories of saying to myself, “well, it’s time to eat some dreams” before casting it and blowing my opponent out.
It does have the distinction of being what is probably the most powerful individual card in Guilds of Ravnica limited, contending with fellow surveillor Doom Whisperer and card advantage engine Experimental Frenzy, not to mention Niv-Mizzet.
I didn’t want a whole section for Experimental Frenzy since I won’t really miss it, and I don’t think that ultimately it was impactful enough to warrant more than a paragraph, so I’ll just mention it here even though it’s not part of the surveil package at all. I like the design of the card, and it was very unique. Mono Red was fairly dominant for a while, and the frenzy helped to ensure that it would never run out of gas. When I first saw the card, I didn’t understand why you would want to play it or that it would be any good. I was quite the noob.
Sinister Sabotage also deserves a mention as a surveil card, but it doesn’t deserve a picture. I both love and hate that card, mainly depending upon whether I’m the one casting it.
Drowned Secrets is not an especially unique or powerful card, but it does enable two distinct strategies very well: mill and self mill. There’s nothing else like that in standard right now since the new mill enchantment from Core Set 2021, Teferi’s Tutelage, only mills opponents.
I have to imagine that there will be a self mill engine printed in Zendikar Rising, so maybe Drowned Secrets will not be missed so much, but I have had a lot of fun playing with it and employing both strategies even if neither one was particularly competitive. There’s nothing like activating four Arclight Phoenixes out of your graveyard on turn 3 thanks to this bad boy, and even though I only did that once, the memory will still last a lifetime.
This is a big groan test card for me. I guess for the kinds of decks that I play, I will usually lose to a deck that can put out a turn 2 Drowned Secrets and counter everything for the rest of the game. As with many cards, I love playing it, but I hated having it played against me, and in mill mirrors, my opponents always seem to draw all their Drowned Secrets immediately while mine get milled away. Sure, I’m biased, but what the hell, game!
Cavalcade of Calamity
I would be remiss if I didn’t mention this card since in a mono red shell it was a very dominant strategy for quite a while, and it still sees play from time-to-time. I’ve always hated cavalcade decks since I could pretty much never beat them with the decks that I like to play. Even if I would come close, they would always have exactly what they needed to do that additional damage and grind me down. I also hated playing those decks myself, even though I did for a while. I just don’t like the mono red gameplay style, and it never seemed to work for me quite as well as it seemed to work for everyone else. It’s gotten to the point where I’ll usually scoop if an opponent plays a mono red card on turn one, especially on the draw.
Anyway, this card is unique — I’ll give it that. It enabled all kinds of spectacular building around, and while it’s not the most popular strategy around right now, there are still cards that are printed that could benefit from the additional incidental damage it provides. Even though I hate the deck, I can’t say I really hate the card itself. I think it’s kind of cool.
There’s no doubt this card deserves some discussion since it’s been at the center of a Tier-1 deck called Temur Reclamation for a long time. I think that there are a lot of people who hate this card or think that it’s overpowered, but I disagree. There’s no doubt that it’s powerful, and it’s effectively free, but it’s still a do-nothing enchantment on its own, and you can really get blown away by playing it. Temur Reclamation is a unique strategy in that it’s always looming, and occasionally it rises up to conquer the metagame once it becomes too controlling, and then the meta shifts to counter Temur Reclamation, and the cycle continues.
Now that Fires of Invention is banned, there won’t really be this sort of mana-multiplying enchantment available unless something analogous is printed in Zendikar Rising. That certainly seems likely, but I think that this unassuming uncommon will go down in MTG history as one of the most powerful cards at the center of one of the most powerful decks during the 2019–2020 period.
I was never really frustrated when playing against this card. If my opponent started tapping individual lands in response to the reclamation triggers, I already knew I was going to lose to a big Explosion, and I could just scoop. For a time on Arena there was a bug where tapping your lands for mana would take a really long time, and you could almost time out trying to tap everything to get a maximum sized Explosion. Now, we have the QQ shortcut, playing with or against this deck is a lot more pleasant, but that came much later than we needed.
Since I’m a big blue red spells fan, I’ve enjoyed Expansion//Explosion and Chemister’s Insight in a variety of other decks too. Copying Thought Erasure or Circuitous Route was always a lot of fun.
While Wilderness Reclamation is probably the most powerful uncommon card that’s rotating, Growth Spiral will take the slot of most powerful common. You’d think that a 2 mana card that does nothing but replace itself wouldn’t be all that good, but the additional land clause has totally changed the way Magic is played. Decks usually run 26 to 28 lands, and for a while there were decks running 30+ lands too like Bant ramp Field of the Dead. Missing a land drop early means you lose, and Growth Spiral is a big part of that on both sides of the field.
Arboreal Grazer is also a popular ramp card that costs only 1 mana, but the nice thing about Growth Spiral is that at the very least it does replace itself in the late game where you probably have a ton of additional mana anyway while Grazer does basically nothing. Growth Spiral is so powerful, that it’s worth countering if you have the opportunity to do so. Being able to consistently make a turn 4 play on turn 3 is a huge deal, and while there are other ways to do that, Growth Spiral just straight up gives you the additional land instead of a body that could potentially be blown up.
I still hate games that are about who can ramp the fastest, and it seems unfair to be up against an opponent who has 4 lands up when you only have 2, even if you’re also playing a ramp deck, but you didn’t draw your Growth Spiral. We already have Uro who sort of replaced Growth Spiral for the upcoming meta, but a lot of decks still run both. A turn 5 play on turn 4 is nice, but a turn 4 play on turn 3 is still a big deal in its own right. We’ll have to see if we get something analogous in Zendikar Rising, but I’m not a big fan of the ramp meta. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure I’ve cast hundreds of Growth Spirals, but it’s usually just to give me a chance to ramp into whatever janky strategy I’m trying to employ in the Play queue.
The Gate Deck
I have to admit that I’ve never actually played the gate deck in constructed, although I have drafted one. This will probably go down as my most hated deck ever since while I was playing blue red spells, it was basically unbeatable. It continues to be a thorn in my side even now. It’s lost a lot of its power, but the gate shell does provide a lot of options, and people doing janky things like running Mirror March or Clear the Mind tend to still beat me out of nowhere. There was no shortage of Agents of Treachery played in gate decks either before that card got banned.
The gate deck really did have everything… powerful, efficient (after discount) creatures with evasion, a sweeper that could often be one-sided, a massive card advantage engine in Guild Summit, stabilization against aggro decks via Archway Angel, and recursion with Gate Colossus. Even Growth Spiral in the gate deck was popular, and often necessary since most of the gate player’s lands enter the battlefield tapped.
The gate deck is not nearly as scary or popular as it used to be, but it still pops up every once in a while and somehow finds a way to beat whatever I happen to be doing, even if it’s not as underpowered as blue red spells was back when it was the only deck I played.
One of the most satisfying games I ever had was against a gate deck where I was running a Sultai Yarok ETB deck with The Great Henge. I laughed in the face of getting swept by Gates Ablaze and churned out card advantage drawing into more Yaroks, Goloses, and Agents of Treachery. It was nice to overpower a deck that at one time seemed like it was so unbeatable — at least in the late game.
Gate deck, from hell’s heart, I stab at thee!
War of the Spark
While I started playing MTGA after War of the Spark had already come out, in retrospect, I think that it really changed the tone of the power level of cards in MTG. I don’t think we’d seen anything like War of the Spark before, and it has cards that have completely reshaped the game that are still seeing Tier-1 play today. It’s also funny to think that a lot of the most powerful cards in War of the Spark are actually fairly underpowered now compared to what has been printed, but that’s all part of the design direction Mark Rosewater and his team chose since this set.
This was a very frustrating card to play against as a blue red spells player, since you can’t interact with it well when it’s a creature, and as a planeswalker, he has an awkward effective starting loyalty of 5. This is a card that seems nearly unbeatable when it’s played on turn 3 under certain circumstances… even if you get to the point where you can play something that’s more powerful than it is, he can probably remove whatever that is after 2 turns of being on the battlefield.
All that being said, Gideon Blackblade doesn’t really fit in competitively. He’s not bad in a control deck, but the double white is awkward, and he’s competing with a lot of other powerful 3 mana plays we’ll discuss later. Mono white aggro is and always has been popular, but has never quite crossed into Tier-1 competitive territory. Gideon also now has Heliod, Linden, and Banishing Light to compete with on turn 3, so even though he’s practically more powerful than those cards once he’s on the battlefield, there’s just never a great time to cast him.
R.I.P., Gideon. I’m not sure that we’ll ever see you again since your character is dead and everything, but going back in time is always a possibility. You did get an awesome last card, but it somehow still wasn’t powerful enough. I definitely scooped because of you quite a few times, though.
The God Eternals (and Ilharg)
I’m not really sure why Hazoret couldn’t make it to the party, but I guess from a story perspective, she wasn’t eternalized by Nicol Bolas. Anyway, I think that these cards are all similar to Gideon above… they’re all ridiculous individual cards, but they’re still just not powerful enough to be truly competitive. I think that Bontu has seen some play in the sideboard of some sacrifice decks or as a way to refuel, but the others don’t do anything the turn they come down which is a no-no for something that costs 5 mana. Okay, Rhonas does, but End-Raze Forerunners gives trample, so I think it’s a better choice in that case.
The God Eternals were all fun cards to play, and they were terrifying to me as a newer player as well. Once I had crafted a few of them — especially Kefnet for blue red spells, I wondered how I could keep losing with them in my deck. It turns out that even though it’s cool that they never really go away unless they get countered, tucking them is more of a liability than anything else. It doesn’t give you card advantage, and your opponent knows they are coming again, and they all either do nothing or not enough even if you get the chance to cast them again. If they stick around, they’re good, but still not insane. I think these are the classic Timmy/Tammy cards — flashy, but without much substance.
They still deserve a mention because I have a lot of good and bad memories of playing with and against each one of them. Popping Niv-Mizzet out with Ilharg was awesome, as was doubling a Thought Erasure thanks to Kefnet, and who hasn’t either built or faced off against a vigilant zombie army thanks to Oketra?
I included Enter the God-Eternals here too just to have a nice, even gallery for this section even though it doesn’t really have anything to do with the other cards. It still deserves a mention, though, but I didn’t want to give it its own section. This was a card that I had great disdain for when I was playing blue red spells since it would usually kill my only creature: a Crackling Drake, and leave my opponent with more life to overcome as well as a big creature. They’d probably mill over a Niv-Mizzet, Parun for good measure. This card has actually been competitive since it gives card advantage by acting as removal while giving you a creature too, but I think it’s fallen by the wayside mainly because it’s too expensive, and its cost is a bit awkward. In a meta with Teferi, Time Raveler and Brazen Borrower running around, you’re probably not going to get much out of your 4/4 token either. It was always nice when your opponent had no choice but to use this on a 5/5 or 6/6 creature that you happened to have out either.
Feather, the Redeemed
Were it not for the gate deck, the Feather deck would probably be my most hated deck to play against except that I also played it for a while to grind competitively. It turns out that when you effectively tack on “draw a card” to anything that costs 1 mana and also powers up your aggressive creatures, you get a damn powerful deck. Once Gods Willing was reprinted in Core Set 2020, Feather decks became more frustrating than ever before since there was a pretty consistent way to protect her, but before the 2019, rotation, Reckless Rage was the card to look out for.
With all the powerful removal and sweepers around now, Feather decks have really fallen by the wayside, but for a time, they were a frustrating force to be reckoned with. It’s not really my play style, but it was definitely an interesting spin on the Boros aggro shell.
Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils
These cards don’t strictly go together, but they often did, and I have a lot of memories playing with and against them as a couple, so I thought I would talk about them together.
They have a lot of similarities being 3 CMC planeswalkers that both have static abilities that might as well say “half of your opponents don’t get to play the game anymore.” Both of these cards have had a massive impact on the game. Teferi was still seeing play even when white had nothing to offer competitively at all — basically Esper decks would run white to play Teferi, Time Raveler and Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. Teferi continues to see Tier-1 play today in blue white and Jeskai control decks. I’ll go out on a limb to say that Teferi, Time Raveler is the most hated card that’s about to rotate. There’s even the “Teferi Test” that’s named after him — a card can’t be played in standard if it doesn’t pass that test, which means the card has to do something before it can be bounced by Teferi. That being said, he never got banned, but Narset has been restricted in Vintage which I suppose is much more consistently reliant on card draw.
I was part of the pool of people who hated Teferi, Time Raveler and wanted him to be banned. I had discussions with friends about how planeswalkers should have summoning sickness. It seems silly now, since that would make them into do-nothing enchantments. Seeing how the metagame has played out, and how Wizards goes about banning cards, Teferi, Time Raveler would pretty much never see a ban since he’s just not a win condition on his own. He’s just very annoying and he does warp the metagame to require either playing with or around him in a way, but that doesn’t make a card bannable.
As with a lot of other cards I proclaim my hatred for, I’ve played with Teferi, Time Raveler in dozens of decks, but I never feel good about it. I wish I could tell my opponent, “look, the only way for this deck to work is for me to play this card, and it’s likely that you don’t care and you may be playing it too, so here we are.” It turns out that what’s basically a 3 mana Time Walk is powerful enough to see consistent play at all levels of the game. He was particularly awful to play against when I was on blue red spells since his high starting loyalty for his cost was especially awkward. Even his +1 can blow an opponent out by sweeping or Thought Erasuring at instant speed. On a more positive note, I think he was the good guy for a while when Simic Flash was on a rampage, and he does shut off Embercleave, so he has that going on.
Unlike Teferi, Narset’s popularity and apparent power level has ebbed and flowed. I think that one major thing that holds her back is her inability to find adventure creatures with her ability — mainly Brazen Borrower. She does give you some card selection, but she’s 3 mana to slowly draw 2 cards if she survives, and the 2 blue in her casting cost is awkward in some decks as well. Since check lands rotated and aggressive and ramp strategies have become more powerful, and there are ways to generate card advantage without actually drawing cards, Narset has faced a lot of limitations. She does shut off cycling, though, but I’m not sure whether that was enough for her to see competitive play nowadays. She also competes with Teferi for the 3 drop planeswalker slot in some decks, and Teferi is better in a wider variety of situations. Of course, I absolutely hated her when playing blue red spells that relied on a lot of card draw.
Narset probably has the distinction of being the card that has individually resulted in the greatest number of misplays, at least on MTGA. I’ve watched videos and streams where players try to draw cards against her, I’ve attempted it myself, and I’ve had a Narset out when an opponent tried to draw cards at least 100 times in total. As with Teferi, I’m not sure how I feel about a card that shuts off a major portion of the game — one that is so ingrained in peoples’ play styles that they forget to play around it. At least having Teferi out doesn’t even let you misplay unless you try to use Finale of Promise or something. I learned that the hard way.
I’m a bit conflicted, since I’ve played with both of these cards so much. If there is nothing like them reprinted in Zendikar Rising, it will be an adjustment, but above all else, I’m breathing a sigh of relief that the reign of terror of these two is almost over for Standard.
Liliana, Dreadhorde General
Before the 2019 rotation when Esper control ruled the world, Liliana was a welcome finisher. She could keep the board clear, could generate card advantage and a win condition, and she required an answer since her ultimate was basically game winning (although I have seen someone lose after using it).
When I was playing blue red spells, every game seemed to play out the same: I’d have any threat bounced by Teferi, Time Raveler, tucked by Teferi hero, and before I could rebuild anything, Liliana would come out to seal the deal for my opponent. I don’t understand how my opponents always had these cards and could play them consistently on turns 3, 5, and 6, but they did.
Liliana was powerful for a time, especially when removing planeswalkers was harder, but that’s not the case anymore. In a way, she’s 6 mana for a 2/2 which is obviously awful. It’s harder to take advantage of her, and it’s hard to imagine a world where she’s as terrifying as she used to be to me. Her -4 is very powerful under the right circumstances, but 6 mana for that effect leaves a lot to be desired, even if it can draw you some cards. I do have fond memories of playing her and Chandra, Awakened Inferno both on turn 6 in Grixis Fires decks with a lot of other removal that made the sacrifice one-sided, especially with Chandra’s sweeper ability thrown into the mix. Liliana is also a great Brawl card.
Speaking of Chandra, lots of people were upset about the fact that her emblem could never be removed, but taking 1 damage a turn from turn 6 onward is not game breaking. She really only worked with a strategy that kept the board clear. While it seems unfair on its surface, there are plenty of strategies that kill you around turn 6 anyway, so let her have her little emblem. Now if Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God were also adding on emblems…
Nissa, Who Shakes the World
When I talk about hating cards, it’s mostly in jest. If there is one card that I had to choose to eradicate from past and present existence, it’s this one. I’ve only played Nissa in one or two rather janky decks. I’ve never played her in any kind of competitive ranked deck, although I have stolen her and played with her before. I think that a lot of people agree with me too, and many have called for her ban.
The ability to consistently make pretty powerful creatures that can hit hard and also defend her every turn is bad enough, but her static ability puts things over the edge. If you can untap with her, which is not a big ask at all, you can cast anything you want for the rest of the game. Even if you cast her on turn 5, she gives you access to 2 extra mana to do powerful things like counter or bounce to give her even more protection.
There’s no disputing that she’s a powerful card, and she’s been the biggest groan test for me. Any time I see her in the play queue, I always wish I could say to the opponent, “what point are you trying to prove by playing this card?” Unlike Teferi, Time Raveler who is only powerful when played in the right deck, once Nissa resolves, the game is basically over if you’re not also playing a Tier-1 deck of some sort. You do need other powerful cards to spend all that extra mana on, but there is never a shortage of those in MTG. Hydroid Krasis is probably the biggest offender out of all of those.
The Krasis is another card that I think is worth a mention, but I didn’t have enough to say for it to warrant its own section. Yes, it’s powerful as hell giving you resilience against aggressive decks, card advantage that control decks are after, and a win condition all in one — and it scales all game long. This is yet another card that I often found unbeatable with whatever I was trying to do, but has never been quite as phenomenal when I’ve played with it myself, so it does have its limitations. I hated seeing it for a while, because like a lot of green big boys, it’s particularly good against the blue red spells I liked to play. I think we’re all a little tired of Hydroid Krasis at this point, so it’s a good time for it to rotate, but I can’t deny that it will be missed.
Mana dorks aren’t particularly competitive right now, although they are always popular. I think that Paradise Druid is the gold standard for a turn 2 mana dork — it’s difficult to remove before you can get at least one use out of it, but it’s also fair since it can’t really block well. It’s enabled some interesting strategies with its hexproof ability too — especially since you can mutate onto it now. It even hits hard when it needs to.
I’m not sure whether we’ll see something like Paradise Druid in Zendikar Rising, so I felt like talking about it. It makes for interesting gameplay decisions on both sides of the table. Should you attack into it? Often, your opponent won’t block with it, so you get some extra damage in, but they could ruin your plans if they do block. Incubation Druid is also a fun card what with its adapt ability, but I still think that Paradise Druid is what you want out of a mana dork. Sadly, Growth Spiral is just a better enabler overall.
Fortunately for us Niv-Mizzet fans, he didn’t stay dead when Nicol Bolas killed him, so he’ll probably be back. For the time being, he made his way onto this fun card. A powerful attacker and card advantage engine, running Niv-Mizzet Reborn was more about deck building than anything else. You needed to run enough cards to be able to play him quickly and consistently and to refill your hand with effective gold cards. I was sad when Fires of Invention was banned mostly because it was the best enabler of Niv-Mizzet Reborn decks, and there were so many of those that you could run even though they were never really competitive. It’s a shame that Fires was too good in decks that actually were competitive.
There’s still a little time, but I’ve never managed to draw 10 cards with Niv-Mizzet Reborn. I did manage to get him on the battlefield on turn 2 with a Gilded Goose, Leyline of Abundance, Enigmatic Incarnation combo, but that’s more a hilarious meme than anything else — drawing all of those extra cards doesn’t do much when your hand is already full anyway.
I hope we see another card like this in Zendikar Rising.
Core Set 2020
This may go down in history as the most annoying deck to play against (since 2019 anyway), and it was quite dominant for a while. I think that it is still very powerful, but for whatever reason, it has fallen from favor although perhaps the reprinting of Rewind from Core Set 2021 will give it new life.
You generally had to either go under this deck to beat it, or get a timely Teferi, Time Raveler (with added flavor). Otherwise, they could just beat you to death while countering everything you tried to cast until they had an opening to cast their powerful Nightpack Ambusher finisher. I played the deck myself for some competitive grinding back when I was into that, but now I’ll usually scoop if anything I cast gets countered on turn 2 or 3 regardless of the matchup… not that it’s not a valid way to play the game, but it’s just not what I’m personally interested in playing against like with mono red.
Draw Go strategies are as old as Magic, so it’s no surprise that there would be a viable one in the current Standard. Zendikar Rising will have to provide a lot of new toys in order to make that viable, so we’ll have to wait and see. I will say that I do love Wolf from a design and gameplay standpoint, and I liked playing it. Even though it’s a wolf, the art reminds me of my Russian Blue cat, so I like to call him my little Nightpack Ambusher.
I also enjoyed playing Brineborn Cutthroat in a variety of blue red spells decks, so I was happy that he helped me go back to my roots. Frilled Mystic can get lost, though.
Risen Reef seemed like a fun card, and I have played it in many decks, but unlike all my opponents who consistently had one on turn 3 and 4, I never actually got to draw it, so I’ll never be able to experience that joy.
All joking aside, I think that this was a very fun card that was severely underrated for both constructed and limited when it was first spoiled. For a time, it got to the point where people were calling for its ban. It was pretty ubiquitous too, but It’s just a 3 mana 1/1 after all. Elemental decks and decks that run Risen Reef for any reason don’t see much play nowadays, but I’ll have mostly fond memories of playing with this card and going off with it with the various payoffs available. Speaking of that…
Yarok, the Desecrated
At 5 mana with no cast or ETB ability (strictly speaking), Yarok never got there when it came to competitive play, but I’ve played him with almost every card that has an ETB regardless of its color.
It turns out that the result of doubling ETB effects is more than twice as powerful than each of those effects individually. Attaching that to Yarok’s decent body that’s also an elemental payoff gives you a pretty strong package altogether. I’ve played him with the obvious cards like Risen Reef, Healer of the Glade, Cloudkin Seer, Overgrowth Elemental, Golos, and of course Agent of Treachery, but I’ve also gone deep playing him alongside the surveil cards like Disinformation Campaign and Dream Eater to enchantment payoffs like the omens and Setessan Champion. I’ve built a Dread Presence deck with Yarok too. Adding another color makes things more awkward and more fun — go off with Charming Prince, or Omnath. He’s a fun Brawl commander too. Add Thassa, Deep Dwelling and Alirios Enraptured to the mix too.
Yarok’s effect existed in the past on a card whose name I can’t remember, so it’s not unique to the game, but it is unique to Standard. Before it was banned, Yarok made things really wacky with Field of the Dead too. It’s a shame that the other cards with his namesake were not particularly good, although Yarok’s Fenlurker sees play in discard decks from time-to-time, but not with Yarok himself.
I’ve had more than a few memorable games with Yarok. In addition to the gate deck I beat up on that I mentioned earlier, I had 50+ zombies from Field of the Dead in one turn, and I had a very close game that I snatched from the jaws of defeat thanks to a well-timed Dream Eater my opponent wasn’t prepared to play around.
For a time, Yarok was probably my favorite card, and he’s a lot more flexible in terms of deck building requirements compared to Niv-Mizzet, Parun, but he still had his limitations in terms of power. I’ll miss playing with him, so I hope that there’s a suitable replacement for him in Zendikar Rising.
I’m glad I got to talk about and reflect on cards that have been meaningful to me that are about to rotate out of standard. It’s a bittersweet time, and I can’t wait to see what’s in store for Zendikar Rising. Core Set 2021 seems to be ramping down the power level a bit since things went nuts in War of the Spark, and then somehow even more nuts in Core Set 2020 and Throne of Eldraine, but we’ll see. There were more cards that I wanted to talk about, but I mostly only have one or two sentences to say about them, so I’ll just list them here without the pictures since I think that would take up too much space.
I’ll only mention cards that I have something interesting to say about. There are some cards I’m omitting that I have memories of, but not much more to say than “it was a card.” I’m sorry if I missed one of your favorites.
- Divine Visitation — I never really got this card to work, but it was pretty hilarious at times. I love the flavor text too.
- Murmuring Mystic — I never really got this one to work either. It just seemed really cool, but its stats just couldn’t justify its cost.
- Quasiduplicate & Spark Double — I’ve had a lot of fun duplicating all kinds of things, mostly with ETBs. Having multiple copies of a legendary permanent was also cool, and while it was held back by requiring you to already have something worth copying on the battlefield, I hope we see this sort of effect again.
- Midnight Reaper — This card was frustrating as hell to play against sometimes, but there’s so much exile-based removal running around now it’s not such a threat anymore. We’ll see how Liliana’s Standard Bearer does as a replacement.
- Ritual of Soot — The only card that let me play certain decks when going up against aggro strategies. It served me well, and will be missed. Cry of the Carnarium is similar, but I liked Ritual of Soot better and played it a lot more.
- Runaway Steam-kin — This card was the nuts before the 2019 rotation, and even afterwards it was crazy. It was and is part of the reason I resent mono red.
- Beast Whisperer — This guy was very powerful in limited. He was too expensive for constructed for the most part, but I’ve had fun playing with him here and there, especially in Brawl.
- Nullhide Ferox — I used to think this was something like the most powerful card ever. It’s funny how much my thinking has changed. He is almost impossible for a blue red spells deck to deal with, I’ll give it that, and that was all I played for a while. I remember one time where I cast Dispersal on it too… whoops (I still won that game, though).
- Pelt Collector — This is yet another card that always seems to work great for my opponents, but never for me. I’m sure many people will have great memories of playing with him… and not so great memories of playing against him.
- Gruul Spellbreaker — A friend and I had discussed how the power level of the game in general and creatures in particular had shifted, and this card was at the center of our conversation. You’re either going up in power for its cost, or it has haste, and either way it has hexproof on your turn and gives it to you too. Gruul was pretty strong for a while, and Gruul Spellbreaker has always seen play in Gruul decks, but I think it’s really just a strong but fair creature with current gameplay.
- Thief of Sanity — I used to hate this card, but it’s actually not all that scary. Depending on your opponent’s deck doesn’t work out that well in constructed since hopefully your deck is all cards that are worth spending all your mana on for the whole game anyway. It was still a ton of fun, though.
- Thousand-Year Storm — While this card is hilarious, it was very tough to make it work since you basically had to take turn 6 off to use it, and your deck also had to have enough cheap spells to get it going. It has enabled all kinds of silly things, though, and it’s sort of a fair take on the
- Chromatic Lantern — This was and is a fun card that enables any sort of wacky multi-color strategies you might have. Dryad of the Ilysian Grove is a fairly suitable replacement, though.
- Smothering Tithe — I honestly don’t have much more to say about this than “it was a card,” but I just have to mention it because it’s so unique. Hopefully White keeps getting more and better tax effects.
- Guardian Project — It will be sad to see one of the best green Brawl cards go.
- The Wanderer — Did everyone forget about this card? I think that it’s a bit too expensive for what it does, but it’s definitely a cool design.
- Massacre Girl — I’ve lost way too many times because of this card.
- Casualties of War — How many times have you been able to cast it with all 5 modes?
- Dreadhorde Butcher — This is another card that I was terrified of that’s actually not that strong. On turn 2 it’s quite good, but that’s about it. What’s the biggest you ever managed to make it?
- Mayhem Devil — This card is still very powerful, and it’s part of Tier-1 standard decks as we speak. I can’t stand it, so I’m mostly glad that it’s rotating. I hate being pinged to death.
- Oath of Kaya — When Esper was dominant, this was part of that package too. I have a love-hate relationship with this card, since I’ve enjoyed using it in quite a few decks, but it’s completely ruined other decks I’ve tried to play when it’s used against me.
- Ral, Storm Conduit — I have to mention him since he’s part of an infinite combo that I played for a bit: cast any spell, copy it with Expansion, and then copy that Expansion indefinitely. Ral’s static ability can deal infinite damage. It’s not very robust since it requires you to have Ral on the battlefield and two of the same card (Expansion//Explosion) in your hand, but it was especially fun when you pulled it off by copying an opponent’s spell.
- Sorin, Vengeful Bloodlord — I almost forgot about this card entirely, but for a while, it seemed like it was being played everywhere. Giving planeswalkers lifelink is cool. Maybe we’ll see it again some time.
- Tamiyo, Collector of Tales — This is a bit of a strange card that you can play in decks where you have to have a particular card or cards. Narset may be better than that, but Tamiyo’s recursion ability is nice. I don’t think I’ve ever had her protect me from a sacrifice or discard effect, though.
- Time Wipe — before Shatter the Sky came along and ruined things with its mono-colored efficiency, this was the best sweeper around.
- Karn, the Great Creator — he got restricted in Vintage which is really saying something. I enjoyed playing with him in some fancy artifact decks, but those weren’t very strong in standard, and they’re even worse now, so even though he shuts off ovens and the like, he’s more of a hassle at 4 mana than anything else. I did manage to beat an opponent in a Steel Overseer-based artifact mirror match once I shut off all of his artifacts thanks to Karn. Fun times. Steel Overseer doesn’t make the list itself, but I have fond memories of it. It was already a reprint, though, so maybe it’ll be back. Mystic Forge gets a nod too, and hey, it was also restricted.
- Ugin, the Ineffable — Along with an artifact package that may include Karn and Mystic Forge, he can really turn into Ugin, the effable, if you know what I mean.
- God-Pharaoh’s Statue — This was a terrifying card for a blue red multi-spell deck for a time, but it’s too expensive to do much with the way the game is now.
- Interplanar Beacon — what are superfriends decks going to do without this?
- Rotting Regisaur — I think that this still is the most efficient creature ever printed, but because of his discard effect, he’s also very easy to punish. Sadly for it, there was never a really strong deck like a reanimator deck that wanted to discard that much although I played with and against those strategies plenty of times, and against the Regisaur in general in all kinds of shells. It’s also proudly carried Embercleave any number of times.
- Sorin, Imperious Bloodlord — Does anyone remember when black white vampires was dominating standard? I used to hate this guy too, and I just played against a vampire deck with him the other day and lost.