Exemplar [eg-zem-plahr] (n) –
- An ideal model
- A typical or standard specimen
- A Magic: the Gathering format extending from Eighth Edition onward, in which players' decks must consist of cards that were a legal deck together at one point in Standard.
I don't remember where I came up with the word Exemplar, but I can't imagine a more perfect name for the format. It brings together all of the pinnacles of the Standard format across the ages, all of the perfect highlights everyone wants in a format. Deck diversity? Check. There are literally fourteen years of Magic available. Aggro-control? Check. Meet UB Faeries in all of its glory. Interactive Magic? Check. It's a culmination of Standard decks, and Standard decks aren't broken – they all interact with each other, or are too slow to kill anyone before they win. That said, there are some broken things that could be in the format …
- Artifact lands
- Arcbound Ravager
- Disciple of the Vault
- Jace, the Mind Sculptor
- Stoneforge Mystic
- Reflector Mage
- Emrakul, the Promised End
- Smuggler's Copter
These are some of the cards that were banned during their time in Standard. They spawned oppressive archetypes, or … in the case of the last three, a philosophy change at Wizards. But, just to make things simple, any card banned in a Standard format is banned from Exemplar. One day, if we feel that Jace, the Mind Sculptor or Smuggler's Copter could add to the format (in a balanced, healthy way - not just because someone wants to cast them), we can have a trial period for it.
But until then, we still have an amazingly diverse, engaging format. Rite of Flame is legal, and so is Birthing Pod. Splinter Twin has Deceiver Exarch. Wait, what was I saying about engaging? Surprise! These cards are completely balanced. They aren't coupled with the cross-format synergies that make things degenerate. Here are some cool things going on in Exemplar (and only Exemplar!):
- Birthing Pod - Melira exists, but not Kitchen Finks, so that's out. Deceiver Exarch can untap a Birthing Pod, but not a Kiki-Jiki. There's no combo to find. Just pure, unadultered value.
- Rite of Flame - powers out Empty the Warrens on turn 4, but has no card draw, no Past in Flames, no backup plan, no resiliency. A fine line between awesome and fragile. But it's never going to get better, so you don't need to worry about it crossing that line.
- Bloodbraid Elf - Blightning just isn't as powerful as the stories foretold. BBE->Blightning was just the best thing to do back in its day. But against all of the archetypes in Standard's history, things are a little more balanced. Or you can cascade into Seismic Assault to combo with Swans of Bryn Argoll.
- Dread Return - combos with Bridge from Below, Narcomoeba, Flame-Kin Zealot, and all of the dredgers! How sweet is that? The downside is that you have to play vulnerable, summoning sick creatures as your enablers, and the deck falls apart to Anafenza, the Foremost or a Surgical Extraction.
- Splinter Twin - Deceiver Exarch can be paired with it, but that's it. No Pestermite, no Kiki-Jiki. Oh, and no way to win via regular damage. But, you do get access to a lot of cantrips, so it's in this weird state of between highly consistent and not really, as it only 4 copies of each combo piece.
- Gitaxian Probe - check this out … all of these cards are legal together: Glistener Elf, Gitaxian Probe, Spell Pierce, Groundswell, Vines of Vastwood, Mutagenic Growth, Distortion Strike, Blighted Agent, Ponder, and Wild Defiance. That's just a banned modern deck! Except for Noble Hierarch. And a functional manabase. Hmm.
- Treasure Cruise - aww, yeah. You can still cast this in Jeskai Black, UR Prowess, or Bant Heroic (or something else I've forgotten!). But you won't ever have Thought Scour to turn it on easily, and you won't be flipping Delver of Secrets with it.
- Eye of Ugin - pair it with Eldrazi Temple to cast … ummm … an 11-drop? Yeah, it's fine, but no turn-2 Thought-Knot Seers here. It's still the Primeval Titan that's going to kill you.
- Cloudpost - in a similar vein, you can cast Tooth and Nail, or Mindslaver, but … you know you only have the 4 Cloudpost, right? You get Sylvan Scrying, but no Glimmerpost, no Vesuva. It's balanced, something I never thought I'd say about this crazy land.
- Sensei's Divining Top - Rejoice, Miracles players! You can still pair it with Counterbalance and Blood Moon! No Counterspell, but you do get Mana Leak and Remand. The downside? No Terminus, no Jace, … wait, speaking of Jace … what's your wincon? Niv-Mizzet, the Firemind? And how are you beating a Wild Nacatl?
So, that's just a taste of the banned cards in Modern that are alive and well in Exemplar. And not even all of them. Hopefully I've convinced you of something, but let me convince you of a few more things:
Exemplar is affordable, accessible, and safe to invest in. They're just Standard decks. And a lot of those Standard decks aren't filled with eternally-playable cards. You're never going to have Liliana of the Veil and Dark Confidant in the same deck. No Tarmogoyfs + fetchlands. And if you've ever had a Standard deck, then you have an Exemplar deck. It sticks around and isn't going anywhere. That investment (whether you made it yesterday buying Amonkhet cards or ten years ago buying Lorwyn cards) is safe in Exemplar. So dig out your old staples, they've been given new life. Oh, and while you're at it - pull out those Modern Masters Yosei, the Morning Stars from the bulk box … they are actually good in Exemplar.
Exemplar is interactive. Weird for me to list off a bunch of crazy decks that push the boundaries of Modern legality, and then come back and say the format is interactive. But, the above decks are just a few in the huge diversity of decks and archetypes available. For every dredge, there's a Solar Flare. For every Storm, there's a Hellrider deck. And something oft overlooked – these are Standard decks we are talking about. Even the most all-in, fragile, inconsistent combo deck still doesn't win on turn 3. Standard just hasn't had those sort of degenerate synergies possible. Every turn your goldfishing opponent doesn't kill you gives you another turn to interact, even if they are with clunky cards like Memoricide or Counterflux that are too slow for Modern's all-in decks.
Exemplar has balanced mana. The mana is as good as you want it to be, but it comes with downsides. And that "downside" is that you have to choose your spells and manabase in tandem. Want to play 4 colors? You can! But you have to choose between Siege Rhino and Mulldrifter, you can't get both. And don't forget, Blood Moon, Shadow of Doubt, Tectonic Edge, and aggressive decks are all in the format too, so come prepared!
Exemplar is nostalgic. If you were excited by any of the above decks being viable, there are even more available, each unveiling a part of Magic's storied history. In a given tournament, you'll see what people grew up with, learn about crazy decks you could never dream of, and show off what you love. All while having amazing, unique games along the way.
And finally, Exemplar opens the doors to brew. The format might look like you just have to pick an established archetype, but certain cards could never see play because their era was too hostile to it. It really sucks that Phyrexian Obliterator was in the same set as Dismember, but there aren't nearly as many Dismembers in Exemplar as there were in Standard, so now, maybe it's the horror's time to shine. And even whole new, unexplored strategies are possible, like tap-out control in eras with Splinter Twin or vehicles. When Exemplar settles down into something resembling a metagame, you'll still have the opportunity to tune sideboards, come up with something out of left field, or look to the latest Standard format for new ideas. Standard will always bring a new challenger to the arena, and it might even be the next best deck!
And I've been trying to find those best decks. I've hosted double-elimination tournaments at a few big events, having friends bring their own decks, as well as abducting innocent Standard players nearby. The first tournament had Mono-Red Hellrider beating UW Delver, GB Constrictor, and then Swathstorm twice to win it all. But this time, Hellrider might not be so lucky.
The format is insanely fun, and I highly recommend it, even if it's just to pass time between rounds. I'd love to hear what you think about Exemplar, what you're excited about, and what your favorite Standard decks were!