Apropos of some testing that I’ll likely discuss in next week’s In Development, I found myself back at Gatherer trying to suss out options for life gain in the now days-away Shards-Zendikar Standard.
The news is not so good.
Click through to the extended entry for a list of potentially viable life gain options in the new Standard, as well as the requisite discussion.
I’m going to go through the options in order of increasing cost, as is my wont. I am already noticing the sad absence of Kitchen Finks and Primal Command, although it is, in all honesty, good for us to have to try new things.
The Refuge cycle gives one life as it comes in, which is okay, but is nothing you’d put your deck design out of joint just to play. If you happen to be in paired colors that can use a given Refuge and can accept some tempo loss, it’s okay. Otherwise, I’m not a fan.
Kabira Crossroads is a slightly more reasonable option in a slow deck that can, again, accept the tempo loss.
Sunspring Expedition seems like more of a sideboard card rather than anything one would play maindeck. In that role it has some potential, as it comes down on a turn when you likely aren’t otherwise engaging your mana, and 8 life is a pretty dire tempo hit against an aggro deck, especially since you presumably are doing other things to try and stem their offense in the meantime.
Grazing Gladehart has to stay alive to have any meaning, unless you sandbag it until a later turn when you can immediately drop a land (+2 life), or drop and crack a fetch (+3 life, net) or a Terramorphic (+4 life).
Ajani Vengeant does what he does, affecting tempo and Lightning Helixing things. He has the added benefit that your opponent is likely to direct some hate his way before returning to burning you out.
Captured Sunlight is another decent sideboard option, with the bonus of perhaps coming stapled to a removal spell or a blocker.
Mycoid Shepherd is conditional in a way I don’t like, as the promise of later life gain is not going to keep your opponent from just coming over the top and, as we said above, burning you out.
Offering to Asha is that good kind of quirky fun, handing you four life while you (maybe) counter their spell. Surprisingly viable in this role.
Tendrils of Corruption is a tremendous beating if you’re mono-black.
Wall of Reverence is still around, and offers the potential to stem an aggro tide while slowly clawing back your life totals.
Marrow Chomper could be a giant blowout if you’re already dropping a bunch of dudes, although that suggests you maybe shouldn’t need life gain at all.
Rhox Bodyguard is lackluster, but has an okay body attached to okay life gain.
Eternity Vessel is a fascinating reset button, but in many ways it’s more like Clearwater Goblet, in that if you untap with it, you’ve probably won the game then and there, but you have to live through all the early nastiness if you want to untap with it.
Kiss of the Amesha is a sort of pseudo-Primal Command, giving you 7 life and some card advantage. It’s neither as versatile nor as powerful as PC, but it might still find a place in the appropriate deck…although, again, six mana is arriving awfully late at the game.
Obelisk of Alara is really more like an eight-mana effect, and much like Eternity Vessel, probably spells the end of the game right then and there if you get it active.
Sorin Markov helpfully combines life gain with threat mitigation.
Sylvan Bounty might see play simply because the vast majority of the time, it’s a sort of denuded Sylvan Scrying instead.
Our “save me in the early game” life gain options are quite limited at the moment. Given the strength of fast aggro, we’re going to need to either find a way to live to these later turns or ramp such that those later turns come to us (hitting a Kiss on turn four or five rather than on turn six, for example). I look forward to testing these options in the week ahead.