From the Brewing Board – The King Is Dead

The King is dead. Long live the…oh, we also killed the Crown Prince, and his eldest son too. But hey, there’s this page boy you might want to look at. He’s pretty cool, with his dredge and everything.

The recent bannings have obviously changed Modern significantly. The new hotness of [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] is gone, taking UR Delver out of tier 1 at the same time. [card]Dig Through Time[/card] was perhaps a little surprising, given the fact that it had yet to dominate any tournament, but the reasoning given by R&D was at least solid. DTT could slot in to a lot of Cruise-shaped voids, but it also makes combo decks a lot stronger.

Birthing Pod was always going to get banned; it was just a question of when. The nature of a repeatable tutor effect is such that it can only get better with each new set. If we look at the evolution of the deck since it came on the scene, it’s basically added something new every year: [card]Restoration Angel[/card], [card]Abrupt Decay[/card], [card]Sin Collector[/card], [card]Voice of Resurgence[/card], [card]Archangel of Thune[/card], [card]Scavenging Ooze[/card] and most recently, [card]Siege Rhino[/card] and [card]Anafenza, the Foremost[/card]. I had already heard people talking about Alesha, Who Smiles At Death as a possible inclusion from Fate Reforged, though I have no idea how the mana base stretches that far. The deck also gets to maindeck sideboard cards because of its silver-bullet nature. There really is no healthy way to keep such a powerful enabler in the format without banning a bunch of utility creatures.

So Now What?

I had an entire article written on my favourite Modern deck right now, a demon-child mixture of [card]Scapeshift[/card] and [card]Splinter Twin[/card] that had a Plan C of [card]Splinter Twin[/card] on a [card]Primeval Titan[/card]. Sadly the deck kind of needed 4 [card]Dig Through Time[/card] to function, allowing us to play 3 of each combo piece and still reliably find them. It might be viable without Dig, but I have my doubts.

I have a few kernels and two decklists to give you some ideas as we head to a Modern Pro Tour that could be the most innovative in a while. Most of these are completely untested, but that’s never stopped me before!

Jund Dredge

Golgari Grave-Troll isn’t the enabler of broken things that it is in Legacy, but it certainly has me thinking about a Jund dredge list that brings back GGT with Alesha, Who Smiles At Death. That list is very much in the planning stages. Cards like Soulflayer and [card]Varolz, the Scar-Striped[/card] potentially also live in this strategy, though we might be looking at two different decks there.

If we combine a Soulflayer package (in that we want cards we can delve away to make Soulflayer as much of an engine as possible) with an Alesha package (keeping our utility creatures at power 2 or less), we don’t lose much utility given the boost in power level from being able to recur things with Alesha as needed. We can get lifelink, flying and deathtouch from [card]Vampire Nighthawk[/card]. Flying, deathtouch and four tokens from [card]Hornet Queen[/card]. [card]Tajic, Blade of the Legion[/card] can give us indestructible, though the value of that is somewhat lower in a format where [card]Path to Exile[/card] is legal. [card]Crypt Champion[/card], [card]Marisi’s Twinclaws[/card], [card]Hound of Griselbrand[/card] and [card]Prophetic Flamespeaker[/card] all grant double strike, with Flamespeaker also giving trample. [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] not only grants trample but also acts as a discard outlet. The main issue I can see is getting hexproof, which is only available on small and unimpressive creatures…and [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card]. Some combination of these, with [card]Tormenting Voice[/card] and probably Pack Rat acting as enablers next to our pair of Trolls, would be my creature base. Season according to taste and meta.

Scavenge Infect

If we decide instead to go the Varolz route, our creature base naturally looks very different. [card]Lotleth Troll[/card] stays, but now we’re looking for a high ratio of power to mana cost. [card]Death’s Shadow[/card] is of course the big bomb here, giving a creature 13 counters for a single mana. [card]Phyrexian Soulgorger[/card] is a fair amount worse but still packs a hell of a punch when scavenged. We might also want to consider [card]Hunted Horror[/card] (potentially bad to cast but cheap to scavenge) or [card]Nyxathid[/card] (slightly more expensive but less terrible to cast).

Our recipient of choice is [card]Phyrexian Crusader[/card]. He’s resilient to some of the most played removal in the format (only [card]Abrupt Decay[/card] and [card]Dismember[/card] really hit it). I also want to try and play [card]Plague Stinger[/card] or [card]Inkmoth Nexus[/card] in the deck, though the latter might hurt our mana base a little. Another possibility is [card]Flesh-Eater Imp[/card], which even at 4 mana has a lot of promise. The goal is to get an evasive threat and make it lethal fast while hopefully avoiding removal. Since we have discard available to us, we’ll be stocking up on that and on the usual suspects of removal. Here’s the list I’d start with:

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Verdant Catacomb
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
3 Inkmoth Nexus
2 Woodland Cemetery
1 Twilight Mire
5 Swamp
3 Forest
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Thoughtseize
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Abrupt Decay
2 Liliana of the Veil
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Death’s Shadow
4 Phyrexian Soulgorger
4 Phyrexian Crusader
3 Varolz, the Scar-Striped
2 Fauna Shaman
4 Lotleth Troll
3 Flesh-Eater Imp
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Smother
2 Slaughter Pact
2 Creeping Corrosion
2 Sword of Feast and Famine
3 Ranger’s Guile
3 Golgari Charm
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

This list doesn’t run [card]Golgari Grave-Troll[/card] but that’s purely because it needs to have a good base of infect creatures for the fast win. You could go another route with things like [card]Troll Ascetic[/card] and [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] to give you a more robust creature base, but be aware that you’ll need to edit the manabase accordingly.

Polymorphin’ Power Rangers

Getting a fast [card]Emrakul, the Aeons Torn[/card] into play remains one of the best ways to win a game of Modern. My son, who is just learning the game and still revels in every FNM game win, was instantly drawn to the big spaghetti monster, recognizing the power and the trade-off with the mana cost. Modern has seen multiple ways to bring ol’ Emmy into play, from [card]Through the Breach[/card] to Urzatron (and previously [card]Cloudpost[/card]s, before the bannings) and even [card]Goryo’s Vengeance[/card]. Me, I’m looking to [card]Polymorph[/card] him.

A lot of people have never even heard of [card]Polymorph[/card], let alone played with or against it. It destroys a target creature then has the controller of that creature reveal cards from the top of their library until they hit another creature. Normally the balance is that you don’t know what you’re going to hit, but we of course are looking to fix the odds by playing only one creature in the deck.

In order to do that, we still need creatures to destroy. Token producers will be our saving grace there, taking a framework that is already fringe playable and adapting it to our needs. We also want to make sure we can win without [card]Polymorph[/card], so playing some number of anthems seems like a good idea. Here’s the list I’ve been running:

[deck]
[Lands]
4 Windbrisk Heights
2 Seachrome Coast
4 Flooded Strand
4 Hallowed Fountain
3 Glacial Fortress
4 Plains
1 Island
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Path to Exile
2 Brave the Elements
4 Raise the Alarm
4 Midnight Haunting
4 Spectral Procession
2 Triplicate Spirits
2 Shrine of Loyal Legions
3 Polymorph
4 Intangible Virtue
3 Leyline of the Meek
3 Honor of the Pure
1 Elspeth, Knight-Errant
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
2 Emrakul, the Aeons Torn
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite
3 Monastery Mentor
3 Supreme Verdict
2 Mark of Asylum
2 Celestial Purge
2 Promise of Bunrei
1 Iona, Shield of Emeria
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Some of these numbers still need a little tweaking. [card]Triplicate Spirits[/card] is a good card but lousy on an empty board. [card]Leyline of the Meek[/card] is obviously inferior to [card]Honor of the Pure[/card] any time after turn 0, but I think the benefit of it is worth the risk. It could be replaced by another token maker and the fourth Honor. [card]Polymorph[/card] being a sorcery AND targeting the token does make it tricky to play safely, which is why we side it out (for the [card]Monastery Mentor[/card]) against removal-heavy decks. I can see a case for [card]Elspeth Tirel[/card] over her 4-mana version, if only because she makes a more substantial board presence when she comes down. [card]Windbrisk Heights[/card] is often better than [card]Polymorph[/card], though less consistent in ending the game.

The sideboard I am happier with. Elesh Norn comes in against Twin and other token decks. Verdict is great against any creature-based strategy, especially Fish. [card]Mark of Asylum[/card] is a necessary evil against UWR, Purge is further backup against Twin and Iona is…well, she’s Iona. [card]Promise of Bunrei[/card] is a cute card but with Burn being so prevalent this might need to be [card]Kor Firewalker[/card].

Raising The Sky Again

With the Pro Tour just around the corner, I have no doubt we’ll see a lot of innovation. The last time there was a format shakeup before a Pro Tour, we ended up with Sam Black’s Shoal Infect, 12-Post and CounterCat being big parts of the metagame. I can see cards like [card]Fauna Shaman[/card], [card]Countryside Crusher[/card], [card]Tasigur, the Golden Fang[/card] and maybe even [card]Shu Yun, the Silent Tempest[/card] making waves in a heretofore unseen deck, along with the old favourites of GBx, Twin, [card]Scapeshift[/card], UWR and Bogles. Burn and Affinibots will probably see the usual amounts of play and given that Paul Rietzl and Pat Cox are qualified, you’d be crazy to bet against Zoo.

The bannings have definitely changed Modern, and I know several players who are upset that they can’t play with their decks any more, but almost without exception they accept the necessity of those bannings. A new format with a PT looming is a very exciting time, and I will be glued to my TV all weekend.

Until next time…brew on!

From the Brewing Board – The Skies That Bind

Excluding the usual percentage of permanent dissidents, this Standard format is receiving almost universal acclaim. At our recent PTQ here in Newfoundland I had a couple of players mention that they had played against a different deck each round, and each of those decks was a known entity in the metagame. That’s usually a sign of a healthy, diverse format. Although we’ve been working towards that since the mistakes that were CawBlade and Delver, this is the first time since I returned to Magic in New Phyrexia that I can honestly say we’ve succeeded.

Unfortunately, that sucks for brewers. When there is no consensus best deck and no deck you can reliably expect to face 5 times in 8 rounds, it becomes very hard to attack the meta from an unconventional angle. With so many diverse threats and answers, it is also hard to find a route to victory with unconventional cards that isn’t attacked by splash hate for a known deck.

That, combined with a crazy busy end to 2014 that involved a ton of traveling and also moving house, has largely been the reason for my extended absence from this fine website. It’s hard to write about brews when I can’t find a good one. Although Standard is about to change, I think the list I am about to discuss will still be relevant as starting points for the new format. Fate Reforged is a small set and doesn’t look like it will revolutionise the metagame, so finding the best additions to existing archetypes is likely to be the place to start.

The Skies That Bind

You might have noticed that Abzan/Sidisi Whip and BG Constellation decks are both pretty good right now. A lot of the power in these decks lies with the enters-the-battlefield effects on cards like [card]Siege Rhino[/card], [card]Hornet Queen[/card], [card]Doomwake Giant[/card] and [card]Sidisi, Brood Tyrant[/card]. [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] does an admirable job of letting you abuse these abilities, either by letting you access them early or by letting you get them twice.

There’s no question that these decks are very good, but it seems like the one thing holding them back is their own success. The archetype is designed to go for the long game, grinding the opponent down with strong removal until seizing control with a huge card advantage hit. When the mirror (or pseudo-mirror for that matter) happens though, the grinding gets far worse as each player can get the same massive swing and restore the balance. That [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] helps pad life totals is a further complication.

Some Sidisi builds of the deck had taken to playing [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card] as a mirror-breaker. I didn’t want to go that way when it would mean losing access to [card]Siege Rhino[/card]. So how could I one-up the conventional builds in terms or advantage engines? That would involve a way to get more ETB triggers, but with Whip’s iron-clad exile clause that seemed unlikely.

Or is it? I’m sure we all have fond memories of [card]Restoration Angel[/card] and [card]Thragtusk[/card], right? Well a card that has been tickling the back of my mind since it was printed is [card]Skybind[/card]. Blink effects are a natural partner for ETB effects, and they interact very nicely with [card]Whip of Erebos[/card]. If you exile the Whipped creature to Skybind’s effect, Whip’s exile clause is satisfied and the creature can safely return in your end step and stick around. You know, like we used to do with [card]Obzedat, Ghost Council[/card].

The non-enchantment clause is unnecessarily restrictive and a little annoying, but with a few small tweaks we can lessen the hassle. We’re already playing [card]Courser of Kruphix[/card], [card]Doomwake Giant[/card] and [card]Whip of Erebos[/card] as enchantments, and some versions run up to two [card]Eidolon of Blossoms[/card] to give them a card advantage edge. The problem I’m sure you’re already seeing is that we can’t trigger [card]Skybind[/card] for less than 3 mana in this configuration. Fortunately [card]Font of Fertility[/card] is a card.

While it’s not hard to think of Font as a strict downgrade from [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card], it does have certain advantages. Neither it nor the land it fetches can be killed by [card]Anger of the Gods[/card] or [card]End Hostilities[/card], it is more likely to be a relevant draw late in the game and of course it triggers Constellation. Here’s the list I came up with:

Whipbind

[deck]
[Lands]
1 Caves of Koilos
4 Forest
4 Llanowar Wastes
2 Plains
3 Sandsteppe Citadel
4 Temple of Malady
1 Temple of Silence
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Windswept Heath
1 Swamp
[/Lands]
[Spells]
4 Font of Fertility
3 Hero’s Downfall
2 Murderous Cut
2 Skybind
1 Utter End
3 Whip of Erebos
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
4 Courser of Kruphix
3 Doomwake Giant
2 Eidolon of Blossoms
3 Hornet Queen
1 Nyx Weaver
3 Satyr Wayfinder
4 Siege Rhino
1 Pharika, God of Affliction
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
2 Ajani, Mentor of Heroes
1 Bile Blight
3 Drown in Sorrow
1 Ashen Rider
2 Brain Maggot
2 Glare of Heresy
2 Reclamation Sage
2 Nyx-Fleece Ram
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I wanted to cut a Wayfinder for [card]Nyx Weaver[/card] for a couple of reasons. Losing [card]Sylvan Caryatid[/card] did make us a little more vulnerable in the early game, and the Weaver has the added bonus of killing some attackers while also filling your yard. If you are unlucky enough to mill over a Whip, he gets it back. Oh, and he triggers Constellation. I was very happy with this change but I think 2 might be too many.

Pharika of course is often seen in the 75 of these decks, but there was no way I was leaving her out of the main deck. Those Snake tokens are enchantments, as is she. Without Caryatid she has slightly less fodder but I was able to use the ability enough with [card]Doomwake Giant[/card] to validate the decision.

Running Font did mean I needed more basics. I think cutting one [card]Llanowar Wastes[/card] for a second Swamp would be a good plan, but otherwise the mana was not a problem at all. Drawing a Font late game worked exactly as I hoped, letting me cast a [card]Doomwake Giant[/card] or [card]Skybind[/card] and trigger it again on the same turn for a single mana.

Skybind was a little shy at times but when I did draw it, it won me the game. In fact it won two games that no other card could have, enabling me to beat my opponent’s triple [card]Hornet Queen[/card] draw despite only seeing one of my own and no Doomwakes. I had initially overlooked that you can exile your opponent’s stuff with it too, which was relevant a couple of times. It and Font were the two MVPs of the deck, as I hoped.

I really like some of the board, like the [card]Nyx-Fleece Ram[/card]s and [card]Brain Maggot[/card]s as additional cheap Constellation triggers with upside, plus of course the anti aggro package of [card]Drown in Sorrow[/card] and [card]Bile Blight[/card]. [card]Ashen Rider[/card] was key in an Abzan Whip mirror, and of course Glare and [card]Reclamation Sage[/card] are typical at this point. I never brought in Ajani, as I think it’s more for the grindy matchups and I am already well set for those in my main deck. I’m not sure what a better option would be though.

One possibility is [card]Odunos River Trawler[/card], which gets you back an enchantment creature to your hand when it enters the battlefield. Being able to blink that might be worth trying, but the body is not impressive.

The deck was a ton of fun to play. Yes it’s basically Abzan Constellation with jank, but that jank is particularly good against other decks fighting on the same or a similar axis. I like doing silly things, and blinking [card]Hornet Queen[/card] is a silly thing. I haven’t really dug deep into Fate Reforged yet but [card]Skybind[/card] certainly seems to do some ridiculous things in combination with Manifest. Keep that in mind when combing through the spoiler for possible tweaks.

Until next time, Brew On!

From the Brewing Board – Pixie Sticks

Magic: The Gathering is supposed to be fun, right? We play the game because we enjoy it, we derive pleasure from some aspect of it. Some of us like to win, some like to assemble absurd combos, some just want to put huge creatures into play. No matter what though, we all like being able to play our spells. Some of us would even prefer to beat an opponent who is an active participant than one who is mana screwed or being kept from casting their spells. It’s the reason [card]Thoughtseize[/card] is the card you love to hate, the reason you feel bad when your opponent keeps a two-lander and loses with those two lands in play.

Normally that’s me. I’m only human though, and every now and then I see a deck idea that is so far on the opposite end of the spectrum that it is specifically designed to make people hate their lives…and I cannot resist the temptation. I just…have to.

Rack ‘Em Up

I remember looking at Eight-Rack when it first became a thing, and wondering how it beat GW Little Kid decks with Smiter and [card]Wilt-Leaf Liege[/card], but also how it ever beat a top deck. When a huge chunk of your deck becomes dead after turn 3 or 4 or you’re weak to [card]Birthing Pod[/card] in a format where [card]Birthing Pod[/card] is the key to two of the top 3 decks…yeah, I am not playing that deck.

What if we could make the deck in such a way that we could not only BEAT the top of the deck, but also make sure that nothing there was a concern? What if we got to play a bunch of horrible cards designed to do nothing but make your opponent long for the game to be over, and yet feel like they cannot possibly concede to the assemblage of unfiltered jank on your side of the board? If that appeals to you, then boy are you in the right place.

Our deck takes inspiration from Eight-Rack in that we have as many as 8 discard spells. The reason for that will become clear shortly. Since we plan to be keeping our hand empty, we’re also going to run [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card] to keep creatures off our backs. The similarities with Eight-Rack end there, however.

Getting Some Insight

We need to beat the top of the deck, which can be challenging. What if we can not only see what’s there but also control what the opponent is able to draw? This is where the assemblage of unfiltered jank comes into it: we’re going to play not only [card]Lantern of Insight[/card], but also [card]Ghoulcaller’s Bell[/card], [card]Pyxis of Pandemonium[/card], [card]Codex Shredder[/card] and [card]Altar of the Brood[/card]. In addition to controlling what our opponent is allowed to draw, these cards also serve as a win condition for us. Yes, we plan to win by selectively milling our opponent. One. Card. At. A. Time. And during that time, we will be making sure our hapless victim is allowed to do absolutely nothing of consequence. Ever.

Here’s a potential list:

[deck]
[Lands]
3 Verdant Catacombs
3 Polluted Delta
1 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
4 Overgrown Tomb
4 Watery Grave
2 Swamp
1 Island
1 Forest
[/Lands]
[Spells]
3 Codex Shredder
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
4 Thoughtseize
4 Ensnaring Bridge
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
4 Infernal Tutor
4 Lantern of Insight
3 Mox Opal
2 Pithing Needle
2 Pyxis of Pandemonium
3 Altar of the Brood
2 Gaea’s Blessing
2 Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas
1 Tezzeret the Seeker
1 Torpor Orb
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Dakra Mystic
[/Creatures]
[Sideboard]
3 Leyline of Sanctity
3 Nature’s Claim
4 Abrupt Decay
2 Sun Droplet
2 Whirlpool Whelm
1 Leyline of the Void
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

A couple of versions of the deck will eschew other win conditions, but I really like having both flavours of Tezzeret to not only win the game but also help us find our pieces and toolbox artifacts to shut the opponent down. [card]Gaea’s Blessing[/card] is some Lansdell tech, a throwback to when I first started playing. I would not be surprised if Andrew Cuneo played the control decks that were around that ran only 2 [card]Gaea’s Blessing[/card] as a win condition. It might be unnecessary here, more testing is required on that front. [card]Ensnaring Bridge[/card] is the real powerhouse in the deck, but I accept that we might want more lands with a 5-drop in the deck in order to maximise the Bridge. [card]Infernal Tutor[/card]s are very important to the build, allowing us to go get a Bridge or [card]Lantern of Insight[/card] as required. Lantern is the other key card, perhaps the biggest key to the deck, and if I were to add anything it would be [card]Trinket Mage[/card] to make sure we could find it. [card]Artificer’s Intuition[/card] is another possibility.

Altar of the Brood is the most recent addition to the deck and the one that made me finally want to try it. We can keep up fetchlands to mill at instant speed fairly easily, and with all the low drops we can really plow through their library. Be careful against Tron of course, that can undo all your hard work in a real hurry.

A friend of mine played this deck recently and when I spoke with him about it, he mentioned we are a little weak to burn, hence the Leylines and [card]Sun Droplet[/card]s in the board. [card]Whirlpool Whelm[/card] is something I am trying out, being able to control the top of the opponent’s deck works well with clash and being able to put a creature on top so we can mill it also seems powerful.

This is strictly an FNM deck, if for no other reason than it’s way too slow and durdly to take to a real tournament. It also requires a fairly high degree of setup, but the reward for that setup is very high. Be warned: you will get frustrated playing this, and your opponents will spend their turns fashioning crude effigies of you and using their pens to try and poke out your eyes using said effigy. But you’re getting the last laugh. Why?

Well, they just lost to [card]Codex Shredder[/card].

Brew on!

From the Brewing Board – Sometimes You Need a Break

Standard is far from boring right now. There are no fewer than six decks that could win a tournament any given week (Heroic Ascendancy, Jeskai Burn, Abzan, Boss Sligh, GB Constellation, UW Heroic) and several more just below. There’s no format boogeyman dominating, no oppressive and unbeatable one-two punch and no stifling and boring hard control deck. For the time being at least, we’re right where we want to be.

Of course that doesn’t mean that on any given Friday you might not decide to play something different. Maybe you are fed up with besieging your opponent’s face with a rhino, or you’re done riding mantises. I don’t blame you! Not one bit. You know the deck, you know it’s good but you’re going through a slump or perhaps you just need to try something else to give your brain a stretch. This is my wheelhouse baby, and since I have been remiss in providing you with fun articles and lists I am bringing you not one, but TWO piles of amusing jank to rock at your next FNM.

Pile the First: GR Bees

I’ve been playing with [card]Hornet Queen[/card] a lot. I loved the Sidisi Whip deck that ran 3, and the card is really hard to answer. Sadly some decks like GB Constellation are perfectly set up to handle the stinging onslaught, investing a lot less mana than we did in order to dispose of our game-winning threat. Pretty rude, if you ask me.

GR Monsters is one of very few decks that survived rotation. Sure it lost [card]Domri Rade[/card], [card]Mizzium Mortars[/card] and [card]Ghor-Clan Rampager[/card] but the core of the deck remains viable and we have some spicy additions in [card]Hooded Hydra[/card] and [card]Ashcloud Phoenix[/card]. This list, while not revolutionary, aims to take a green devotion/GR Monsters shell and throw in [card]Purphoros, God of the Forge[/card] so that we can win the game almost on the spot with our [card]Hornet Queen[/card]. Yes, that IS ten damage.

If we want to go this route we almost certainly want [card]Hornet Nest[/card] as well, because [card]Chord of Calling[/card] is simply one of the best cards in this sort of deck. Flashing in a Nest to block a large Rabblemaster or a monstrous Polukranos could just win you the game between Purphoros damage on the hornets and the subsequent crack back. I’m also including a few one-ofs as toolbox cards for our Chords. Here’s where my list is at currently:

[deck title=GR Bees]
[Lands]
7 Forest
5 Mountain
4 Wooded Foothills
4 Temple of Abandon
1 Rugged Highlands
2 Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
3 Elvish Mystic
4 Sylvan Caryatid
4 Goblin Rabblemaster
4 Courser of Kruphix
1 Reclamation Sage
2 Hornet Nest
2 Polukranos, World-Eater
1 Nylea’s Disciple
2 Purphoros, God of the Forge
2 Ashcloud Phoenix
1 Arbor Colossus
1 Hooded Hydra
1 Hydra Broodmaster
4 Hornet Queen
3 Chord of Calling
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
2 Setessan Tactics
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Arc Lightning
2 Magma Spray
2 Nylea’s Disciple
2 Eidolon of the Great Revel
1 Reclamation Sage
1 Arbor Colossus
1 Xenagos, God of Revels
2 Xenagos, the Reveler
1 Crater’s Claws
1 Bow of Nylea
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

I initially had [card]Stormbreath Dragon[/card] in here but it just seems poorly positioned in my local meta. Ashcloud triggers Purphoros twice and still takes care of [card]Wingmate Roc[/card], though admittedly not as well as our sausage-esque friend. [card]Setessan Tactics[/card] is way better than I initially thought, often acting as a board sweeper against decks like UW and Boss Sligh even without the bees in play. Once you add the deathtouchers it gets very silly.

[card]Xenagos, the Reveler[/card] was initially in my main deck but he ends up being very vulnerable against a lot of decks as I am often tapping out in the early turns for one large threat. He comes in against slower decks that can’t easily kill him. The Eidolon in the board might seem strange but it’s a good way to put the breaks on the [card]Jeskai Ascendancy[/card] decks early on.

Some of my highlights with this deck include winning a match on 1 life by Chording for [card]Hydra Broodmaster[/card], untapping and going monstrous for 7 (thanks Nykthos!), winning when stuck on two lands because [card]Goblin Rabblemaster[/card] is a fair card and Purphoros doesn’t help, and losing to a Sultai deck that stole Purphoros and [card]Hornet Queen[/card] with [card]Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver[/card]. Sometimes I can have fun even when my face is getting smashed in!

Pile the Second: Scry Burn

Scry is one of those mechanics that looks completely innocent and slightly poor on the face of it, but in practice and skilled hands is remarkably powerful. Not only is it good, it gets better the more of it you do. Stacking a deck is illegal for a reason, and having cards that essentially legitimise it is great for people who want to leverage superior play skill against the field.

I am not for one moment suggesting I am superior in play skill to everyone at my LGS, but I do know how the game works. [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] and [card]Dig Through Time[/card], for example, are busted-wide-open levels of good. They also have a converted mana cost of 8, which is a nice high number for a spell with scry to use: [card]Riddle of Lightning[/card]. That it lets us scry 3 is good on its own, but the added damage at instant speed while setting us up to draw well makes the card very strong in the right deck. I just wish we still had [card]Blast of Genius[/card]…

Riddle isn’t going to win us many games on its own. Thankfully there’s an abundance of good burn spells in Standard right now, as well as stuff like [card]Chandra, Pyromaster[/card] and [card]Keranos, God of Storms[/card] to throw some damage around. And don’t pretend you haven’t dreamed about ultimating Chandra and hitting [card]Dig Through Time[/card]. You have, and so have I.

Another unconventional card in here is [card]Spite of Mogis[/card]. Don’t get me wrong, this card is generally not good. I realised though that a deck relying on red removal was going to have trouble with large-assed creatures like [card]Siege Rhino[/card] and Polukranos that can kill me quickly. [card]Fated Conflagration[/card] has already been discovered but Spite can sometimes do more for one mana.

Finally, the creature suite. I am seriously tempted to cut all but the [card]Prognostic Sphinx[/card] from the main deck, but [card]Spellheart Chimera[/card] has been REALLY good for me. It’s usually lethal in one hit, so they have to find or have an answer right away. That said, they will probably have an answer since there is nothing else in the deck they can reliably use it to kill. It also dies to my own main-deck [card]Anger of the Gods[/card]. It just hits SO HARD, and nobody sees it coming…which makes it even better in the board I guess. OK OK, you got me. To the board we go!

Here’s my current list then, bearing in mind our most recent changes:

[deck title=Scry Burn]
[Lands]
4 Temple of Epiphany
4 Shivan Reef
4 Swiftwater Cliffs
7 Mountain
4 Island
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
2 Spite of Mogis
2 Prognostic Sphinx
2 Keranos, God of Storms
[/Creatures]
[Other Spells]
4 Magma Jet
4 Lightning Strike
3 Anger of the Gods
4 Stoke the Flames
2 Fated Conflagration
3 Chandra, Pyromaster
3 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
2 Riddle of Lightning
3 Dig Through Time
3 Treasure Cruise
[/Other Spells]
[Sideboard]
2 Ashcloud Phoenix
2 Spellheart Chimera
2 Fated Conflagration
3 Magma Spray
2 Disdainful Stroke
2 Negate
2 Mindswipe
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

[card]Mindswipe[/card] is a bit of a test here. Getting people to 5 or 6 life before running out of team is not unusual, and the ability to counter their stabilizing spell while also killing them dead is something I felt the deck might have been lacking. That said, it’s possible I need a more robust creature plan out of the board and fewer counters.

This might look like a deck that has trouble winning, but with opponents damaging themselves with painlands, fetches and occasionally [card]Thoughtseize[/card]s you often only have to do 16 damage to win. Chandra is astoundingly good in this deck, either serving as a [card]Howling Mine[/card] or a ticking timebomb that WILL end the game. The main deck Angers are a bit of a local meta call, and can probably come out if you are not beset on all sides by aggro decks. I’d suggest some rather unconvential choices in that case: move the [card]Mindswipe[/card]s main, try [card]Bolt of Keranos[/card] or potentially [card]Master the Way[/card].

I have on two occasions managed to get Chandra to ultimate, once hitting [card]Treasure Cruise[/card] and once hitting [card]Dig Through Time[/card]. Sadly in both cases I could just win by choosing a burn spell instead. I’ve also won games by casting Riddle at the end of turn, revealing Sarkhan to deal 5, then dealing 3 more with Keranos in my upkeep before casting Sarkhan and hitting for 4 more.

The card selection in the deck is phenomenal. You honestly feel like you have exactly what you need almost all the time. I am considering the addition of Thassa but honestly I don’t think she is worth it unless we can turn her on. We don’t have enough to make unblockable. Something like Aetherspouts or another pseudo-sweeper would be of great use, since Anger is sometimes not enough and Mortars is no more. I also considered [card]Steam Augury[/card] but right now I don’t know what I would cut for it.

I’ve been doing a ridiculous amount of travelling and judging so my brain isn’t exactly in brew mode right now. I do have a few Modern lists for you to try out, which we can talk about next time. Until then…brew on!

Exclusive Commander 2014 Preview – Demon of Wailing Agonies

Wizards Of The Coast is releasing a new Commander Product this year as the Multiplayer Offering. Last year, they brought us new Shard focused Commander decks, as the release before focused on the Wedges. This time around, the focus is on monocoloured decks, allowing for the products to be designed in such a way that the cards in the decks can be used in any deck that shares the colors, instead of isolating them based on colour identity. Also of note is that this product will be the first one to release Planeswalkers with the rules text on them which states that they can be used as the Commander of your deck. Having played no shortage of the format, let me tell you that this can easily lead to some very degenerate things. (That is why we play this format though right??)

CHRIS: Our preview card however is not one of these fancy new planeswalkers, nor is it one of the new spicy legends from Magic’s past that have never before graced a card. What it does do is show (one of?) the new mechanic(s) in the set: Lieutenant. Rules-wise, this is pretty simple – as long as you control your commander, cards with Lieutenant do something extra or different. It’s an ability word so it doesn’t actually have any rules associated with it, it just does what it says on the card. It’s worth mentioning that a copy of your Commander, for example if your opponent is playing it, will not count and will not grant the bonus. A mechanic like this is also a neat way to make sure that any card they design with this mechanic doesn’t break Legacy, because outside of Commander this does nothing. But hey, it’s not like a card designed for multiplayer could EVER see play in Magic’s most widely-played Eternal format…right?

Hornet QueenScavenging OozeTrue-Name NemesisToxic Deluge

Oh. Right. Errr…Scott? Help me out here buddy.

SCOTT: Our preview card is one that is sure to see a lot of play at your tables in the very near future, as it really passes all of the litmus tests for the format. Commander creature evaluations traditionally revolve around 3 pillars over and above the cost/size ratios; Enter or leave the Battlefield triggers, static or activated abilities, and the overall resilience of the creature. Our preview card hits on all of these points. Without further ado, let us reveal to you the Demon of Wailing Agonies.

Demon of Wailing Agonies_Mana Deprived_20141028

I feel as if this card is going to easily see a lot of play in this format. First of all, a 4/4 flying creature for 5 mana is a well positioned creature. There have been a lot of iconic creatures in Magic’s history to share these statistics, most notably for me are [card]Sengir Vampire[/card] and [card]Serra Angel[/card] (Yes… I’m old and have been playing a long time…. get off my lawn). The fact that this creature has these stats and a powerful upside is a good sign.

Once you get past that and start reading into the Lieutenant ability though, this really starts to get attractive. Removal effects, although powerful on their own, see an increase in value proportionate to the power of the thing you are removing. In Commander, deck building space is somewhat limited, and creatures have to pass particular tests in order to make the cut. Nowadays, many of the creatures have indestructibility, protection from certain colors, or even Hexproof (Thanks Zac Hill) which can make removing them a tricky proposition. Demon of Wailing Agonies gets around all of this and on top that, a flying 6/6 demon is no slouch itself, meaning that one way or another, when it comes across the battlefield, it is likely eating something, albeit a blocker or through the edict effect.

CHRIS: Even limiting the removal discussion to opposing commanders nets us an impressive list of victims who will be wailing in agony after a solid thwack from our new friend here: [card]Uril, the Miststalker[/card], [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], [card]Thrun, the Last Troll[/card] and even [card]Avacyn, Angel of Hope[/card] are eating dirt once this bad boy connects. As Scott rightly pointed out, a 6/6 flier is going to match up favourably with all but the beefiest of opposing fliers, meaning even [card]Kaalia of the Vast[/card] could see herself in trouble (though in fairness, she’s likely running a copy herself). Spot removal is often seen as something of a dirty word (or two words) in the format, but when your spot removal is repeatable and also pounds your opponent in the face…we might be a little more likely to sleeve him up.

SCOTT: The edict ability should ensure this sees a wide range of play, as the ability can be put to use in both aggressive and controlling strategies. Aggressive strategies will be looking to help keep the way clear for the rest of the forces, and the control decks can really use the edict nature of the removal effect to clean up creatures that they otherwise might have difficulty removing. In both cases, the effect allows you to cheat on mana by giving you a spell that you don’t have to pay for, allowing you to further develop your primary strategy.

CHRIS: I hear free spells are good. One thing I wonder about though is which Commanders will be able to make the best use of this card. I know the first place I am looking is [card]King Macar, the Gold-Cursed[/card]. His Inspired ability already allows for removal shenanigans, but there will always be things he can’t target. Protection from black is one of the more populous keywords, and [card]Sword of Feast and Famine[/card] is in almost every deck that has the creature base to support it. The one-two punch of free removal should allow that sort of deck to easily keep the way clear for beatdowns.

SCOTT: I will be looking to put this to work in Kaalia first, as this dropping during the Kaalia turn 3 Kaalia attack can be as punishing in most cases as a [card]Rakdos the Defiler[/card] or a [card]Master of Cruelties[/card] would be (ok… almost). I also think that a UB(x) deck would be at want for the effect.

Kaalia of the Vast

I have played against [card]The Abyss[/card], and yes, sadly I have been victim to a [card]Sorin, Solemn Visitor[/card] Emblem. Neither of these things are remotely fun to play against, and I expect that being behind on board while this Demon is attacking you clearly demonstrates that it should earn its title. I suggest bringing a Mason jar with you to the table, so that when you crush the hopes and dreams of your opponents you can collect their tears in it, and then drink their misery.

CHRIS: I do enjoy a nice tall glass of misery, especially when served up with agony. I think it’s important to mention that there are some places where this card will not be at its best, like against a Sigarda deck. Having Sigarda on the board will just shut this guy down…and make him just a 6/6 flier for 5. Hmm, yeah maybe not shut down then. He’s definitely less powerful against any sort of token or weenie aggro strategy like [card]Rhys the Redeemed[/card] or [card]Teysa, Orzhov Scion[/card], and of course an opposing [card]Grave Pact[/card] or similar will just make you miserable. Just some things to watch for.

SCOTT: Good catch Chris. As far as synergy goes for this card, the only real fair advice that we could give you is that this card is not very subtle. The best way to use this card is simple really, but just in case, let’s go over the recommended usage shall we?

Step 1: Play Demon
Step 2: Play Commander
Step 3: Connect Demon with opponent’s face
Step 4: Profit

Anything that can help facilitate step 3 is desirable. Some ideas might be [card]Rogue’s Passage[/card], Swords, [card]Whispersilk Cloak[/card], [card]Cover of Darkness[/card], or even the lowly [card]Prowler’s Helm[/card].

We would like to close up with a sincere thank you to both Wizards Of The Coast for continuing to support the Commander Format with amazing new journeys into design like this one, and to ManaDeprived.com for letting us share this bomb of a card with you.

CHRIS: It’s always a pleasure and an honour to bring you a new card. This one might not have a ton of cute tricks associated with it, but it doesn’t matter. It’s not meant to be subtle. It’s a giant freaking hammer with which to crack skulls. So…go forth. Crack skulls. Make your opponents wail with agony.

Pairings, Round #7 – Ari Lax

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Chris sits down with the newest Pro Tour champion Ari Lax to talk about his deck, his draft strategy, [card]Loathsome Catoblepas[/card], [card]Paralyzing Grasp[/card] and more!

Topics Discussed:

  • Did you sleep with the trophy?
  • You’ve had so many near misses with a PT top 8. When did you know you were in, and what was the feeling like?
  • How did the top 8 feel compared with winning your first GP?
  • When did you realise you had won a Pro Tour?
  • Once you left the venue on Sunday, talk us through what you did. How does a Pro Tour champion celebrate?
  • A lot of people had a lot to say about your excitement and demonstrative nature at certain top decks, notably against Yuuya and Thiago. How do you respond to the criticism?
  • Was the criticism at all to blame for your somewhat muted reaction to winning the final?
  • In general you are talkative and jovial during matches, especially when crushing people with [card]Loathsome Catoblepas[/card]es. How much of that is a mind game and how much is Ari Lax?
  • Your PT team is quite the assortment. How did you come up with the group you have? Do you feel it’s optimal right now?
  • Do you think the tide is turning away from CFB and The Pantheon and to teams like yourselves and Face to Face?
  • You’ve spoken many times about how you came to choose your Standard deck. How hard was Conley lobbying for a brew? What about Wescoe and white weenie?
  • Your draft strategy was pretty spectacular and mirrors my own right now. What do you think is the best archetype and why is it 5c [card]Secret Plans[/card]?
  • What memorable stories do you have from the Pro Tour? Any special plays or games you can share with us?
  • Now you are a Platinum Pro for basically two years, you have a seat at the Players’ Championship, you get a Hall of Fame vote…quite the weekend! Have you thought about what this will mean for you going forward? More GPs, fewer GPs? Full-time Magician?
  • What will you do with all the groupies?
  • Were you really 5 when you started playing Magic? How did you get into it at such an early age?
  • When did competitive Magic start for you?
  • Talk to us about Team Unknown Stars. Who was involved, and have you been tempted to team with them again? What brought you together?
  • Do you think current Magic would benefit from a JSS?
  • Who did you look up to when coming up through the ranks?
  • How’s testing going for PT Fate Reforged?

Special Guest: Ari Lax (@armlx)
Interviewer: Chris Lansdell (@lansdellicious)