This last year has been a long and very interesting one for the trajectory of Magic: The Gathering as a game, and we at Cards Realm have started our retrospectives, when we remember important moments of Magic this year and also evaluate the impact that 2022 will leave for the competitive formats.
Today, we're going to evaluate the 10 most impactful cards released this year for Standard!
However, this format requires an addendum: the Standard for one year goes through two periods, the pre-rotation and the post-rotation. This year, this division is marked by the format before and after Dominaria United, and the usefulness of each card changes in the transition from one Metagame to another. Therefore, in this Top 10, we are considering the importance that these cards had in one or both seasons, according to their impact, relevance and contribution to the format's competitive scenario.
Furthermore, generic spells were excluded from the Top 10 despite their high presence in the decklists because they exist to compose a certain necessary role in Standard.
Cards like Go for the Throat, Make Disappear or Duress will always exist and will be played in the format because they represent the best interaction that the Standard card pool has to offer. The same goes for Play with Fire, as the best damage spell available for Aggro, and Stern Lesson as a draw effect for Control.
Spells with unique effects tend to rotate with each other in Standard from one season to the next, but they occupy essentially the same role as far as the format's structure is concerned. Of course, there are exceptions where, for example, a removal is so good that it invalidates a variety of creatures, or a draw spell that becomes essential for a massive number of decks, but in general, these spells are generic effects that meet the main needs of deckbuilding.
In addition to them, there is another notable exclusion from our Top 10, but this one deserves an honorable mention:
Honorable Mention - The Manabase
The manabase is the most important part of a competitive format in Magic: The Gathering. Therefore, if we include lands in our Top 10, they would easily occupy the Top 3 or be very close to doing so.
The Streets of New Capenna tri-lands are by far the most important land cycle of the year. The painlands reprint has done a lot to increase the consistency and speed of multicolored decks to the point where they can cast Invoke Despair while running three colors, and the Channel Lands are one of the best designs ever released in the game's history.
Therefore, despite being the pillars that structure the format, just as dual lands have always been in all previous seasons, we will not include any of them in our Top 10 because just like interaction, cantrips and removals, they also represent a primordial need of the game that are cyclically replaced with each rotation.
10 - Sanctuary Warden
Standard is now taken over by Black-Based Midranges, and it's been like this since rotation, and new cards for this strategy come out with every new release.
As an answer to this dominance, players resort to options such as playing under with Mono Red Aggro, or trying to win with efficient Tempo plays like Mono Blue Delver, or going for a direct war of attrition like White-Based Midranges sets out to do.
And in the latter case, Sanctuary Warden stands out as one of the few late-game bombs in the format today capable of playing equally against other great staples on other colors, and for being one of the main reasons to play the Boros or Naya Midrange variants geared towards the card's "combo" with Invoke Justice.
9 - Corpse Appraiser
There is no doubt that Grixis Midrange is the best deck of the current season, even after The Brothers' War. This list has a little bit of everything that makes a solid Midrange: a stable manabase that lets you play spells with greedy costs, access to most of the best cards in the format, a concise and interactive game plan, along with the diversity of colors you need to have a wide array of answers for most occasions.
There are several points that make Grixis a great goodstuff strategy, but one of its elements also works as the glue that makes it more consistent and also rewards running blue in a Rakdos shell: Corpse Appraiser.
The Maestros' vampire is one of those great examples of high-quality creatures that do a little bit of everything the player wants: a 3/3 body for three mana attacks well and can trade decently with a variety of threats from Aggro decks, and a built-in graveyard hate becomes even more important in a format that features Invoke Justice and Tenacious Underdog. Embedding this into a high-quality card selection makes it one of the best plays Grixis can pull off during many stages of a game.
8 - Liliana of the Veil
When reprinted in Dominaria United, Liliana of the Veil left a permanent mark on Standard for a while and was present in a significant portion of Black-Based Midranges until The Meathook Massacre was banned to decrease the predominance of the color in the format.
There are a few reasons why The Meathook Massacre was the card that took the hammer, but one element that stood out was how Liliana and the enchantment complemented each other to handle distinct game plans: while Meathook punished the player for adopting a "go wide" strategy, putting several creatures in play to establish pressure, Liliana of the Veil punished the "go tall" or "go big", where the priority was to keep a high-quality creature on the board per turn.
Since then, both due to the absence of the sweeper and the format adapting to deal with her, Liliana of the Veil has less space in most lists, and today it is limited to the space of one or two copies on the sideboard.
7 - Tenacious Underdog
Like Liliana, Tenacious Underdog has also fallen out of favor recently, both because it doesn't trade well against a large portion of the format's threats today and also due to the incidental graveyard hate that virtually every Black-Based mirror has with Graveyard Trespasser and/or Corpse Appraiser.
However, last season, this creature from Streets of New Capenna was practically mandatory in a significant amount of decks in Standard, being the main element that popularized other threats that weren't yet so present at the time, such as those mentioned above.
From Esper Midrange to Grixis Vampires and through strategies like Rakdos Anvil, Tenacious Underdog offered a good blocker, a decent clock and the necessary recursion to punish removals, and left its mark as a main staple of Midrange and Aggro decks before rotation.
6 - Raffine, Scheming Seer
Raffine, Scheming Seer is, gameplay-wise, the most powerful of Capenna's five demons. Its ability to offer card filtering, a significant power boost, and still have a body that protects itself and only costs three mana, makes Raffine a centerpiece of a strategy that was at the top of Standard last season and today is one of the format's top contenders: Esper Midrange.
Unlike other shells that play with a more reactive stance looking to add value with high-impact spells and some permanents, Raffine benefits from the "go wide" plan, so these lists tend to go deeper into the more aggressive spectrum of the archetype, where its creatures costs a few mana and offers some extra value.
Raffine could even be better positioned on this list, but it is no longer in a moment where this creature is the most absurd and powerful thing that Esper Midrange can do, in addition to the current Metagame being much more hostile to Raffine than last season, where cards like Cut Down and Go for the Throat were not yet present, which forced other decks to have some suboptimal removals to deal with it.
5 - Invoke Despair
If there were a list of the most hated cards in Standard today, Invoke Despair would probably be number one: since the rotation, there hasn't been another card in the format that I've played that makes people concede as many Ranked Matches in Magic Arena as this one.
What makes Invoke Despair so powerful is that it will always be three-for-one. If you keep your opponent's board clean, you will draw three cards and your opponent will lose six life. If the opponent is ahead in the game, the spell will solve this problem by removing two to three permanents in play or grant you four more life and two extra cards while removing a less relevant creature. Not to mention what a difference casting it at an opportune moment on a Midrange mirror makes, given that it's one of the few ways Grixis or Rakdos have to deal with Fable of the Mirror-Breaker at the right time.
However, despite being one of the most impactful effects of the format today, Invoke Despair did very little last season due to a less stable manabase, and the absence of other bombs like Sheoldred, the Apocalypse made a huge difference between resorting to a Black-Based shell or seeking to diversify colors to deal with a more hostile to sacrifice-oriented removals Metagame. So, this card ends up fifth in our Top 10.
4 - Reckoner Bankbuster
From occasional Sideboard piece to Standard's most played card in 2022 - that's the trajectory of Reckoner Bankbuster in the format.
During the past season, this vehicle did not receive much recognition and was commonly seen as an extra asset for attrition matchups, being present as at most a one-of on the maindeck and an extra copy on the sideboard on various lists. However, after the rotation, Reckoner Bankbuster became more and more useful because the need for card advantage and aggressive mana sink grew in a format where Midranges are at the top.
The natural consequence is that all decks that aren't looking to play under in Standard today need this artifact, making it the most played card in the format, present in 78% of the lists currently.
However, just like Invoke Despair, Reckoner Bankbuster's true potential was unleashed after rotation, which leaves it outside our Top 3.
3 - The Wandering Emperor
Since it came out in Neon Dynasty, The Wandering Emperor has become a mainstay of Standard and one of the most feared turn four plays during the combat phase. The Wanderer is what we can call a "powerhouse" in the format, in addition to being considered today the best white Planeswalker ever released in the game.
She does a little bit of everything that many decks would like: grants a removal and creates tokens, two important elements for Control and Midrange, in addition to also putting +1/+1 counters on your creatures, which increased her usefulness in proactive strategies and secured a spot as a 4-of on archetypes like Mono White Aggro last season.
Also, as explained with Sanctuary Warden, White-Based Midranges are another of the few viable options in Standard today, and the main reason why these strategies manage to succeed is that they were given a solid core with tons of card advantage. In this regard, The Wandering Emperor is at the top of the best white cards in the format, and her presence is almost mandatory in all lists that resort to white today.
2 - Sheoldred, the Apocalypse
If The Wandering Emperor is Standard's best white card in 2022, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse is by far the best black card. There are many reasons for the rise of the Black-Based Midranges in the current season, but if I had to point to the main reason why they manage to succeed, I would certainly point out that Sheoldred is excellent in virtually every game.
If you're up against an Aggro, Sheoldred, the Apocalypse not only provides a great blocker, but also leaves the opponent further away from victory with each turn and each draw. If you play against a Midrange, Sheoldred needs to be answered at all costs, or she will dominate the game by punishing a long game, while putting you in a favorable position where you just need to make sure the other side of the board doesn't get too big and the Phyrexian praetor remains alive. In a Control matchup, basically all you want to do is resolve Sheoldred and make sure the opponent doesn't have enough resources to remove her from play, and just like against Midrange, she will punish the opponent merely for not winning fast enough.
The multidimensional advantage provided by this creature means that several games in which it enters the game are resolved around its permanence or quick exit from the battlefield. Sheoldred can dictate the pacing on her own and doesn't even need to attack to accomplish this feat, which makes her more powerful than just about any ETB effect Standard has available today - the praetor's immediate impact is much higher level than the rest of the format.
So, despite not being present last season, Sheoldred earns second place in our Top 10 as she has become the most powerful threat in Standard today.
1 - Fable of the Mirror-Breaker
There are several powerful and impactful cards for Standard in the Top 10, some are even more present in the format or win the game in more efficient ways, but it is indisputable that the strongest Magic card released in 2022 was Fable of the Mirror-Breaker.
Also coming from Kamigawa: Neon Dynasty, the red saga has gained space in every competitive format for its quality in exercising multiple functions with just one card, and in Standard, its use has been enhanced because Fable is so individually powerful that it covers four functions that a variety of format cards try hard to do.
If we consider the main lists of the format today, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is one of the elements that most facilitates casting Invoke Despair in two-color or three-color archetypes: its hand filtering is essential in a Metagame where running more than 24 lands is common, and if its controller untaps with Reflections of Kiki-Jiki for even one turn, the snowball it creates alongside Corpse Appraiser, Bloodtithe Harvester, Graveyard Trespasser, Sanctuary Warden or any creature with an ETB and/or combat effect is immeasurable.
Therefore, for its continued impact on Standard both before and after rotation and with no signs of it becoming less important in 2023, Fable of the Mirror-Breaker is considered the most important card of the year for the format!
That's all for today.
Standard is constantly evolving, and while its competitive landscape seems somewhat stagnant these days, the possibility of Phyrexia: All Will be One and March of the Machine bringing huge changes to the format before the next rotation is not slim.
Thanks for reading!
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