The recently spoiled Yahenni’s Expertise is Wizards of the Coast’s latest incarnation on the black -X/-X sweeper. It’s a sorcery that costs 2BB, and it reads:
All creatures get -3/-3 until end of turn.
You may cast a card with converted mana cost 3 or less from your hand without paying its mana cost.”
I’ll be honest, I thought this card was format-defining and headed towards eternal staple status when I first saw it, but since then I’ve been having some reservations. In order to see where it will fit in, we should analyze its power level and how well it fits into the current and expected Standard format. Firstly, let’s compare it to its closest relative that we’ve had in Standard for a few years, Languish.
Yahenni’s Expertise vs. Languish
The obvious place to start is the -3/-3 versus the -4/-4, and look at how big of a difference that will make in Standard. When Languish was legal in Standard, the -4/-4 killed most creatures in the format, and it was very acceptable to play 4 in your maindeck.
Expertise has the added bonus of cheating a low converted mana cost card into play. In theory, the ideal play would allow the Yahenni’s Expertise player to not commit to the board, and with one card on turn 4 change the terms of the game by switching defense into attack (or more defense) with just one card. Goodbye Thraben Inspector and Selfless Spirit, hello Liliana, the Last Hope! Theoretically, at least. The main problem with the situation that we just went through is that it is the optimal position for this card. Outside of this obviously powerful situation, Languish is better in most situations. If the card that we are casting for free isn’t Liliana, the Last Hope (or Grasp of Darkness for that matter), you will not be able to kill 4 toughness creatures.
Even if you tack a kill spell onto your Expertise, you are not necessarily gaining card advantage, but rather you are gaining a mana advantage equal to the mana cost of the spell you cast for free. Generally speaking, especially for midrange or control decks (which is where Expertise will see play), card advantage is much more valuable than mana advantage. The 2 or 3 mana that is gained in an early turn generally won’t have that much of a lasting impact on the game when the game is expected to last more than 10 turns. One card, on the other hand, can be the difference between board control in the mid to late turns and having the game be put out of reach before our Expertise deck can blunt the assault.
When we put the Yahenni’s Expertise vs. Languish debate in these terms (mana advantage vs. card advantage), Expertise comes up short. Expertise simultaneously wants to be played in a control deck where the -3/-3 shines, and an aggressive or midrange deck where the mana advantage it gives you fits well. Unfortunately, the mana advantage on Expertise will not be able to shine in the decks that really want it because the -3/-3 is counter to those deck’s strategies. When the mana advantage aspect of the card is put aside, it looks more like a sideboard card for midrange and control strategies than a format-defining staple. However, what we can consider a sideboard card or a format staple is entirely dependent on the format, and the difference between -3/-3 and -4/-4 can be massive or nearly nonexistent depend on the format.
Yahenni’s Expertise vs. the Standard Format
In Standard, the quality of cards is not judged by their base power level, but rather how they interact with the strategies that exist in the format. While the format will change with the inclusion of Aether Revolt, the decks that currently dominate the format are very likely to stick around once the new set is released. So, let’s look at how Yahenni’s Expertise matches up against the current format.
Yahenni’s Expertise is quite excellent in this matchup. Of U/W Flash’s creatures, it kills everything outside of Archangel Avacyn, Smuggler’s Copter, and Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. That leaves the majority of U/W’s creature-base open to being exposed by Expertise. However, Yahenni’s Expertise is a fairly good target for Spell Queller. But, as we learned with Languish, Spell Queller-ing a board wipe is a fairly mediocre answer to a long-term problem, but it does take some of the sting out of the card, as the advantage that the mana advantage that Expertise gets you is less impactful as the game progresses. All in all, if Yahenni’s Expertise is excellent against U/W Flash.
If there is an already existing deck where Yahenni’s Expertise will see play, it’s likely to be B/G Delirium. Its mana advantage is best in the early-to-mid game, which is exactly where B/G Delirium needs help. It misses your Grim Flayer once you have delirium online, it doesn’t hit Mindwrack Demon or Ishkanah, Grafwidow (but it does hit the spiders), and the extra mana that the card leaves you with is paired to great effect with Liliana, the Last Hope. However, the big problem with the synergies that this card affords you in this deck is that it’s frequently a very underwhelming card in the mirror match, which is likely to still be a common occurrence in Aether Revolt Standard. Expertise is not the card that you want against B/G Delirium.
In this matchup, Yahenni’s Expertise is probably at its worst, with its only use coming against Servant of the Conduit, which is a fairly unappetizing trade-down of mana, or if you’re lucky, Whirler Virtuoso, which is somehow almost as unappetizing. Consider yourself lucky if you trade 1-for-1 and get to cast a spell. This matchup is already very poor for any deck that wants to play Yahenni’s Expertise, and the inclusion of the new “sweeper” doesn’t make it better.
On the flip side, Yahenni’s Expertise was made for this matchup. Every one of Vehicle’s creatures, outside of Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Smuggler’s Copter, dies to Expertise. Additionally, the matchup of most decks against Vehicles comes down to board control, and the extra mana that Expertise affords you on that particular turn can flip the game completely. Even if our Vehicles opponent has a Smuggler’s Copter safely tucked away, any creature cast with Expertise will change the flavor of the game instantly.
While I would argue that Yahenni’s Expertise is worse than Languish, and by a decent margin, but with the way that this format has shaped up, it is an excellent card against two of the biggest decks already in existence. This tells us that the card is certainly going to see play in Standard, but the main question that we should ask is, “do we play it in the mainboard or the sideboard?” This isn’t an easy question to answer, but I think the answer is mainboard for the first few weeks of the format, then sideboard as the format evolves. As the format begins to shape, players will be more likely to stick to strategies that they already know have succeeded, like U/W Flash and Mardu Vehicles, which is where Yahenni’s Expertise thrives. Magic formats are very cyclical, and I expect the impact of Yahenni’s Expertise to change the shape of the format after a few weeks, with players playing more creatures with 4+ toughness to combat the sweeper. At this point, I believe it would be wise to move Expertise to the sideboard. Having access to a more matchup-focused card like this in the sideboard can never hurt, but the decks that play Expertise will need to focus on combating other, more difficult matchups.
It will be very interesting to see how Yahenni’s Expertise is received in Standard, and I think it’s extremely hard to make an accurate prediction of this card’s power level until the first few weeks of Aether Revolt Standard. Until then, we have more spoilers to enjoy!
Until next time.
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