M13 Incoming

Standard has changed a lot in the last few weeks.  We’ve gone from a metagame dominated by Delver to one where different GRx Pod decks have favorable match ups against the deck at large tournament series.  Now, we haven’t gotten to the point that Delver isn’t the most popular deck by a pretty reasonable margin at bigger events, but there have been a few daily events that have had more Naya decks than Delver decks at the top tables.

Now, the unfortunate thing is that there really isn’t time to take advantage of this information before M13 comes in a shakes the format up.  Because of that, I don’t really want to focus on what I think the metagame is going to look like based on this week.  I want to talk about some more generic things about how the format is now, and on how M13 is going to impact the format.  To be fair, only 200 of the cards are spoiled at this time, but there are still a handful of cards that I think are going to have a huge impact on the format.

The most important thing to talk about is where Delver is going to have to go.

 The State of Delver

I think we’re finally starting to see decks that actually attack Delver from angles that it has difficulty beating.  These Naya decks just flood the board with guys, most of which are uncounterable.  Most of their creatures produce two bodies, or are value creatures in some more traditional way.  As a consequence, they get way ahead on cards in the midgame, and all Delver can really do is try to race with an early flipped Delver or hope to get in a few free hits with [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].

I think that the response to this is to switch back to [card]Runechanter’s Pike[/card] and Green swords to force your creatures through [card]Thragtusk[/card]s and Huntmasters.  The other important thing to recognize is how you can try to stay advantaged in the mirror without devoting too many slots to it; since these GRx decks are becoming almost as popular as Delver, you can’t focus as much on teching out the mirror.  Now, before we go on to the Delver mirror, there is a card from M13 that I think changes how Delver can interact with GRx decks, and that is [card]Downpour[/card].

Now, this isn’t that different than [card]Frost Breath[/card], but it does tap down an extra guy and does so for one less mana.  These Naya decks swarm the board and make it very difficult to get in with Geists, and I think the ability to deprive them of a combat step and force through a Geist hit is a huge deal, especially since the effect can be Snapped back for even more value.  As these decks have developed to the point that [card]Vapor Snag[/card] just isn’t forcing through as many hits, I think something like this may become more necessary to swing the aggro match ups back in your favor.

On the topic of the mirror, I think that the answer to the Delver mirror is just to play more [card]Unsummon[/card]s.  The matchup is so much about tempo that [card]Vapor Snag[/card] is the defining card.  If you’re ahead, you just want to get more hits in.  If you’re behind, you want to force them to reflip their Delver, not just lose to Swords, or just take less damage from [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card].  I’ve been playing one copy of Unsummon in the sideboard of my midrangey UW deck and I’ve been very happy with it, and some of my friends locally have been picking up on the [card]Unsummon[/card]s for their aggro delver lists and just smashing people with them.

The other direction that Delver decks are going in is towards Esper midrangey decks, which seem sweet to me.  Being able to play both the beatdown and have the inevitability of [card]Sun Titan[/card] appeals a lot to me.  One of the cards I’m most excited to see in this kind of shell is [card]Augur of Bolas[/card].  I mean, look at this guy.  If there was a card designed to play well in a shell with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card], it was this guy.

Now, I don’t necessarily think that the metagame is in a place where this guy is that good.  I think we need to wait for a place where control is on the rise again in response to these Naya decks that are reasonably soft to [card]Day of Judgment[/card].  Once that happens, being able to filter through your deck for more cantrips, [card]Negate[/card], and [card]Duress[/card]es seems very important since it lets you stick the threat at the top of your curve.

Speaking of [card]Duress[/card], that’s a card that has the potential to just crush Delver, since it hits most of the cards that let them stay ahead and makes sure you resolve your sweeper or Titan.  I’m curious to see how the combination of [card]Duress[/card] and [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] affects the format, though I don’t think it’s going to do a ton.  The format is way too creature-based right now, but if control ever does get good some kind of UB Delver could be sweet!

Besides these cards, however, Delver doesn’t get too many new tools to play with, which doesn’t bode well for the menace of the format.  Other decks are already on the rise, and they’re all getting new toys to play with, while Delver looks like it’s going to stay in pretty much the same spot.

 Getting Angry

The decks that I think stand to gain the most from M13 are GR aggro and GRx Pod decks.  We’ve got a ton of cards that are ready and able to fill the holes that each of these decks have had in their curve.  GR has been a little short of 2’s and 3’s, having resorted to [card]Daybreak Ranger[/card] who is terrible against [card]Vapor Snag[/card] and [card]Wolfir Avenger[/card], who just doesn’t do very much in a format that’s defined by [card]Blade Splicer[/card] and [card]Restoration Angel[/card].  Enter [card]Flinthoof Boar[/card].

This guy has the same stats as [card]Wolfir Avenger[/card] assuming you’re GR, but for one less mana, which is a huge deal.  Alternatively, he can come down at the same cost as Wolfir but with Haste as opposed to Flash, which seems way better to me right now.  Sure, you’re going to need some way to make sure you can get through [card]Blade Splicer[/card]s, but I don’t think that’s too much of a stretch in the color of [card]Incinerate[/card] and [card]Ancient Grudge[/card].

Alternatively, for the [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks, we get two new five drops to mess around with: [card]Thragtusk[/card] and [card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card].  Up until this point, these decks have had access to [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card] and [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] which are both insane in their own right, but I think that these two newcomers deserve some discussion as well.

Now, the issue with something like [card]Wolfir Silverheart[/card] is that it’s soft to [card]Vapor Snag[/card], coincidentally one of the cards which defines the format.  I think that with the printing of these two, Silverheart will become a sideboard card for match ups where the game is decided by who has the giantest creatures instead of who has the most tempo and biggest board presence.

[card]Thragtusk[/card] will certainly be at least a one-of in all of these Pod decks, likely with one to two extra copies in the board depending on how good Delver stays.  These decks are already playing a ton of [card]Restoration Angel[/card]s and that interaction is just completely unfair, and will crush any aggro decks trying to go underneath the Pod deck while giving you resiliency to the sweeper decks that try to go bigger.

[card]Thundermaw Hellkite[/card] fits a similar role in that it does the same sort of thing as [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] and [card]Hellrider[/card]/[card]Hero of Oxid Ridge[/card].  It gives you an open to just kill them dead.  Fortunately, I think this guy is at a better spot in the curve and does a better job of it than any of those cards.  This is an ETB effect, not a trigger on attacking, which is a huge deal against the Delver players of the world.  This also comes with a huge body, and you can Pod into it off of a Huntmaster.  Now, it is worth mentioning that I think this guy is much better in aggro Pod as opposed to going-up-the-chain Pod.  If you want to hit your [card]Sun Titan[/card] or [card]Inferno Titan[/card], [card]Zealous Conscripts[/card] is way better, since it gives you the same potential to just kill someone, but also lets you go straight from Huntmaster to Titan by untapping your Pod.

 White Aggro

So, these decks have been at the bottom of the metagame for awhile now.  UW Humans used to be a huge deal, and it’s been starting to make a come back locally.  Now, I don’t know if the Blue or Red splashes that we’ve seen in these decks are really necessary at this point.  I think you can make a strong case for mono-white versions of these, just for the sake of consistency or to try out [card]Cathedral of War[/card].  That said, that card isn’t the reason that I’m excited about this deck.  These two are:

Now, I’m sure Ajani is obvious.  You get obscene curves involving [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] and this guy and you can very easily just kill someone on turn four.  Considering you can also get real big with [card]Angelic Destiny[/card], I think this finally gives the white decks the reach they need to be able to compete with the other aggressive decks that are just a little bigger.  Being able to jump your guys and present a one turn clock is absolutely insane, and one that Humans is well-poised to take advantage of.  When you also take into account the added utility of “killing” undying creatures and [card]Phantasmal Image[/card]s, this guy is going to be a big deal for the next few months.

Now, my second choice is probably a little more controversial, but I really like Odric in this format.  Sure, he’s weak to [card]Vapor Snag[/card], but you don’t want him against those decks anyway.  You want him against the decks that clog the ground as another way to force through damage.  The difference is that this time you force your team through instead of just one guy.  This is a lot like [card]Hero of Bladehold[/card] in that sense, but I think the comparison is much closer than you might think.

Sure, you don’t get guys, but your entire team is either unblockable or eats most of their team, which seems just insane to me.  He’s a lot like [card]Gideon Jura[/card] in that sense; he either forces them to make terrible attacks, starts eating their guys, or forces your team through for lethal.  All of these seem pretty good to me.

Lastly, I think the token decks pick up a sweet tool in this set in [card]Healer of the Pride[/card].  This guy seems like he could be huge if green decks start taking over, though he’s pretty miserable against Delver.  Turning all of your [card]Midnight Haunting[/card]s into [card]Timely Reinforcements[/card] is insane, even if you don’t have any anthems in play.  Sure, this one’s a little bit of a long shot, but I’m confident that there are metagames that this guy can just dominate.

 Infect

This is the deck that I think people are going to be the most afraid of after rotation, and for good reason.  [card]Rancor[/card] is a terrifying card from this deck especially in a format with [card]Mutagenic Growth[/card].  This could just be my experience in Pauper talking, but I’m pretty used to seeing this on the second turn:

Oops you’re dead?  To be fair, we don’t have any of the really absurd enablers like [card]Invigorate[/card], and we survived a format with poison and [card]Groundswell[/card], but [card]Rancor[/card] pushes this a lot harder.  I mean, just think about [card]Rancor[/card] with [card]Ichorclaw Myr[/card].  The interaction just feels unfair.  This combined with the moderate success that UG Infect has had in Daily Events recently may mean that it’s a real deck for the next three months.

Even if you don’t think that the deck is real, you can expect that some people will.  The ability to turn 3 someone with any kind of regularlity is going to draw a lot of people to the deck, and it will affect the metagame in tangible ways.  If there’s one thing that you take away from this, it should be that [card]Gut Shot[/card] is going to be a very big deal in this new format as a way to pick off Poison guys, [card]Blade Splicer[/card]s, and Delvers.

 A Modern Interlude

It’s been a pretty long time since I’ve played modern, but looking at the results from GP Yokohama last weekend and these spoilers, I can’t help but notice the prevalence of Islands in the format.  Even looking at MTGO results, a UW [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card]/[card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] deck has been dominating the format for the last few weeks.  This makes me feel pretty good about this guy:

Now, the only two decks I’ve played a lot with in Modern are Ub Merfolk with [card]Dark Confidant[/card] and UW Tron.  I don’t know if the GR Tron decks that were picking up towards the end of last season are too rough for Merfolk to deal with, but I doubt it.  You have infinite lords now, and all the tools to beat up on the decks that are trying to go bigger.  [card]Vapor Snag[/card] is great against [card]Wurmcoil Engine[/card] and [card]Splinter Twin[/card] combos, and both [card]Spell Snare[/card] and [card]Spell Pierce[/card] are very good cards in the deck.

It’s also important to note that [card]Cavern of Souls[/card] is a pretty big deal, since it lets you have [card]Aether Vial[/card] 5-8 against the more controlling decks in the format.  Top your curve off with 2 or so [card]Cryptic Command[/card]s and I think you have a deck that can dominate the field.  You’re a little weak to [card]Vedalken Shackles[/card], but you’re going to have to board cards like [card]Steel Sabotage[/card] and [card]Hurkyl’s Recall[/card] against Affinity anyway, so I don’t see that being too big of a deal.

Merfolk seems very well positioned right now, and is at the top of the lists I want to start testing games with for local modern events.

Here’s hoping that we see M13 contribute further to breaking Delver’s stranglehold on the format!  I’m looking forward seeing what happens in the three months before rotation!

Magic Online: The Game Changer

It’s Friday, June 29th, and I am on a plane. However, my plane, unlike the planes my friends are on, is not headed to Atlanta. I can’t believe I am missing a Legacy GP where Threshold is one of the best decks, but sometimes life gets in the way. I am on my way to Poland with my mom and grandfather for an educational tour of our ancestral homeland for two weeks, and then head to Zagreb, Croatia to meet up with some long lost family. My mind hasn’t really been on high level Magic recently given that there were only a few PTQs to prepare for and transitioning from living the Magic life (i.e. traveling around the world playing cards) to real life; finding a job and an apartment.  I have used this time for a little bit of introspection into my recent and past results, and found that a lot of my game has been developed through Magic Online.

My relationship with Magic Online is a love-hate one. I am not talking about the opportunity cost of time spent playing or the winnings I have accrued online. I am strictly speaking about my game. I want my history with Magic Online to serve as a lesson, outlining the pitfalls and the opportunities of playing online. I used to firmly believe that Magic Online was a waste of time. I reasoned that I played Magic a great deal due to amazing friends I have made playing the game, and playing online removed the social aspect of the game, making it far less enticing. I couldn’t say or do things beyond the mechanics of the game to lead my opponents into making mistakes, something I prided myself in. This article is going to begin the things I have gained from Magic Online and the potential for learning within it. Towards the end, I will discuss some of the possible pitfalls (which I am guilty of falling into) that come along with too much Magic Online. It is my hope that this article will ensure that you get the most of your likely limited MTGO time, and that you will be able to use MTGO as the amazing tool that it is to improve your magic playskill.

Technical Playskill

My first real foray into MTGO was as a tool to prepare for my first Pro Tour; PT Honolulu 2009. My Magic friends and teammates were, as I was, strictly eternal players. My teammates even told me not to bother going. I was a Vintage and Legacy player; my constructed rating was sub 1600 from losing miserably in the only events of a constructed I had ever played.  The format of the PT was Alara Block Constructed and Draft. I logged onto MTGO, grabbed some packs and started the grind. I couldn’t win. I didn’t get it at all; when I drafted locally I would always do pretty well, but online was a different story. After the Pro Tour, I kept drafting online to try to get better, and it slowly slowly got there. It is only retrospectively and through others comments that I realized what happened. In real life, I played very quickly while constantly talking and interacting with my opponent. Not only did Magic feel like a social game to me; I treated it like that while I was playing tournaments.  It was the only way I knew how to play; my technical play skill was lacking and my circle of friends couldn’t help me the way I needed it.

My solution to this issue was a combination of things. The first, group learning; will be discussed in detail in the next section. The second, you probably won’t like. Honestly, I think repetition and hours put in online played a large role in aiding my technical playskill. Because if I lose, I would need to buy packs, it gave me incentive to play well and to attempt to improve at every possible opportunity. Sooner or later (and it was later for me), I was winning 8-4s at an alarming rate. I managed to go infinite without touching a constructed deck online, as long as I was well-versed in the format, I seemed to consistently profit. I realize this is not what you want to hear, but that is how it worked for me. It doesn’t require a huge long term commitment, but it does require putting in some solid hours.

Group Learning and Self-Improvement

Magic Online provides a unique tool in some ways. There is no other way that a group of people can get together and discuss ongoing drafts and matches, working through lines of play and seeing the outcome. I have moved around a lot the last few years, and every city I’ve lived in, I’ve had new people to play with. I want to put this out there: there is no better way to learn from someone than to MTGO with them. Live walkthroughs of lines of play, draft decisions, strategies and tactics allow players to discuss their logic and compare opinions, often finding the optimal play. This is by far my favorite way to play MTGO, I feel you get much more out of the experience beyond the basic improvement in technical play. You get a feel for how others play the game, how others think and can compare and contrast it to your own play style. I honestly thing that my playstyle, while my own, incorporates an amalgamation of all the players I’ve played beside, watched and learned from.

I try to recognize each player I play along side’s strengths within the game and learn from the best in each of them. From Glenn McIelwain I learned how to find and exploit limited metagames. From Dan Lanthier I learned the conservative player’s perspective and how to play properly with Jace. Tyler Longo always watches out for the pseudo-playables in draft and made me much more alert to them. John Smithers can build a sealed deck like no other man I know. Matt Bernard somehow turns unplayables playable (but only sometimes). Alex Hayne’s forward-looking strategy and quick math skills taught me how to better evaluate plays and take the risks with the highest upside and lowest downside based on probabilities. Ben Murphy reminds me to take a second and think through decisions; and that magic requires a balance between impulse and thoughtfulness. And these are just a few of the players I have learned from; playing online alongside others provides a wealth of valuable information.

The Pitfalls

Magic Online is not a slot machine; so don’t treat it as one.

This means multiqueing is a bad idea when trying to learn. Stop firing drafts to try to crack a fun deck or a good rare and only half playing your rounds. This is counterproductive and can lead not only to a large loss of product online, but playskill deterioration by promoting auto-pilot, which is another problem that can come from playing too much online. You shouldn’t be running 1v1 Qs with the same deck over and over again; it will just cause boredom (unless it’s an awesome deck!) and put you into autopilot. Switch it up! Play limited, constructed, different formats. Take a break, or play in segments.

Magic Online makes you forget you are playing a person.

You are not playing a single-player game, despite the lack of social interaction. When you go to a tournament, there will be an actual person sitting across from you, and Magic Online doesn’t really help you in that department.

Where does that leave me? Well, there is no question that my technical play skill has improved immensely since I first started playing online. I have won two MOCS online (one 550 person and one 650 person), the second in April, but haven’t had a good real-life tourney finish since last year. This article, in addition to hopefully providing some valuable insight to my readers, has served as an introspective look into where I am with my game now. Thinking back to the last few live events I have played; this article has given me a lot of insight into why things went poorly. Not only have I found myself recently lacking in the social-interactive aspect of the games. I am playing slower to ensure that my tactics and strategy are correct, according to the book. I can see myself playing less on feeling and gut and not taking risks I would otherwise take. My magic philosophy also suffered; I believed things should happen according to the game mechanics. I pointed out missed triggers even under the new IPG; all triggers occur on MTGO, you can’t miss them, why should you be able to in real life? I started playing with my head down, looking at the board state, my hand, graveyard and not paying nearly enough attention to the person sitting across the table from me. It took me a few months to realize what had happened, and now it’s time for damage control. My technical playskill, thanks to Magic Online, is no longer my issue. I need to revert to my old playstyle and concentrate not only on the cards in front of me, but the match and the opponent.

It is my hope that my history with Magic Online and my analysis of its benefits and pitfalls allows you to make better use of one of the best tools at your disposal to improve your magic game. I hope I can follow my own advice and transfer some of this knowledge to play like I used to, and hopefully you will be seeing me on Tour sooner rather than later!

While I was right in my assertion that MTGO does not provide the awesome social environment that the real-life tourney scene does, it does provide many other things that real-life events don’t, and I think that a healthy combination of MTGO and online play can make players better.

Until next time,

David Caplan

goobafish on MTGO

goobafish88 on Twitter

Bonus Section:

I have spent way too much time playing Vintage since my last article. I have spent hours and hours running my list against Stax with my good friend Jason.  Here is my most current list, in case anyone has a Vintage tourney coming up (anyone going to Gencon??), or just wants to build a fun deck to goldfish.  There are two cards I would like to fit in, but haven’t decided if they are worth the slot yet: A singleton [card]Dark Ritual[/card], and an [card]Ancient Grudge[/card]. The sideboard is still the same, but I swapped an [card]Ingot Chewer[/card] for a Grudge

[deck title=4 Colour Gush Storm]
[Spells]
1 Ancestral Recall
1 Time Walk
1 Demonic Tutor
1 Vampiric Tutor
1 Mystical Tutor
1 Merchant Scroll
1 Imperial Seal
1 Tendrils of Agony
1 Empty the Warrens
1 Yawgmoth’s Will
1 Tinker
3 Preordain
1 Ponder
1 Brainstorm
1 Memory Jar
4 Force of Will
2 Flusterstorm
2 Hurkyl’s Recall
1 Wheel of Fortune
1 Timetwister
4 Gush
1 Fastbond
1 Time Vault
1 Voltaic Key
1 Mox Jet
1 Mox Emerald
1 Mox Ruby
1 Mox Sapphire
1 Mox Pearl
1 Mana Crypt
1 Sol Ring
1 Mana Vault
1 Lotus Petal
1 Black Lotus
[/Spells]
[Creatures]
1 Blightsteel Colossus
[/Creatures]
[Land]
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Polluted Delta
2 Island
3 Underground Sea
2 Volcanic Island
2 Tropical Island
1 Tolarian Academy
[/Land]
[/deck]

How (Not) to Play Against Counterspells and Gitaxian Probe

I used to be mediocre at Standard Constructed. I wanted to get better so I looked to my online poker background to improve. To become a winning online poker player, I reviewed my hand histories to determine the best play at each street. This gave me a growing mental database of the right plays for different poker situations. Also, I was able to see leaks in my game and correct them.

To apply this review process to Magic, I started playing rated matches on Magic-League.com and recording my matches with CamStudio, a free screencast software. After each match, I would review the games and go through each decision point to see if I made the right play.

This process helped immensely. I became familiar with common game situations and the right plays to make in those situations. My win rate and rating went up quickly. After a couple of weeks, I reached the top 50 leaderboard for Constructed and stayed there for a while until I switched from playing tier one decks to homebrews.

My skill translated to Magic Online. Over 130 matches in 2-Man Queues and Daily Events, I’ve sustained a 60%+ win rate on Magic Online. The win rate would probably be higher if I was playing tier one decks, but I like playing rogue and under the radar decks.

Last week, I played a game from a Daily that was more helpful than your average game. Oftentimes, I’ll have games where you really don’t learn much because the plays are pretty straightforward. But this one game was different. He flipped Delver of Secrets on turn two with Mana Leak so I knew he had a counterspell. Then, he cast Gitaxian Probe so he knew the contents of my three card hand. Because of these things, I had extra things to consider.  With counterspells and Gitaxian Probe commonly seen in Standard tournaments, this game is particularly helpful for analysis.

I played Rob Dougherty’s BW Tokens from the Pro Tour while he was on UW Delver.

[deck title=BW Tokens]

[Creatures]

*4 Champion of the Parish
*4 Doomed Traveler

[/Creatures]

[Spells]

*4 Gather the Townsfolk
*4 Honor of the Pure
*4 Intangible Virtue
*4 Lingering Souls
*4 Midnight Haunting
*2 Sword of War and Peace
*3 Oblivion Ring
*2 Sorin, Lord of Innistrad
*1 Elspeth Tirel

[/Spells]

[Lands]

*4 Isolated Chapel
*1 Shimmering Grotto
*13 Plains
*3 Swamp
*3 Vault of the Archangel

[/Lands]

[Sideboard]

*2 Revoke Existence
*1 Timely Reinforcements
*1 Go for the Throat
*2 Surgical Extraction
*1 Divine Offering
*1 Doom Blade
*3 Angelic Destiny
*4 Hero of Bladehold

[/Sideboard]

[/deck]

Let’s check it out the game. I made a bunch of mistakes but hopefully you can learn from them. I definitely looked at Magic different after this game.

Play by Play

On the play, I mulled a one-lander. He cast the first spell with Delver of Secrets on turn one. I had Doomed Traveler on turn two.

He flipped Delver of Secrets with Mana Leak, attacked for three, cast Ponder, did not shuffle, and played a Plains. That brought us to this game situation on his end step:

At this point, we know a couple things. Obviously, he had Mana Leak in hand. But notice that he cast Ponder (and did not shuffle) instead of playing a land and leaving Mana Leak mana open. This told me that he kept a one-lander and needed Ponder to find a second land. So, his hand was all spells.

I drew a Plains, attacked for one, cast Lingering Souls, and passed the turn. I could’ve cast Sword of War and Peace instead but Vapor Snag could’ve put me way behind on tempo.

He could have counter mana next turn so my plan was to cast Midnight Haunting on his turn. This would force him to tap his mana for Mana Leak on his turn if he wanted to counter it. If he countered it, that would allow me to resolve Sword of War and Peace or Lingering Souls from the graveyard on my turn.

He cast Gitaxian Probe so now he knew I had Sword of War and Peace, Midnight Haunting, and Elspeth Tirel.

I untapped and drew Champion of the Parish. Here was the board state:

At this point, we can put him squarely on a hand of seven spells. When he cast Ponder, he saw two spells and a land and moved the land to the top.

I was tempted to play Champion of the Parish but going with my original plan of casting Midnight Haunting on his turn was better.

If I cast Champion of the Parish, he probably wouldn’t counter. Instead, he’d save Mana Leak for Lingering Souls in the grave. Resolving Champion of the Parish would not really be that great because as a 1/1, Insectible Aberration would keep it from attacking. Also, I had no way to make it bigger right now.

So, I passed the turn.

He drew Seachrome Coast and passed the turn. I cast Midnight Haunting EOT and it resolved.

I drew another Plains on my turn. Here was the board state:

I cast Champion of the Parish because I could pay for Mana Leak. It resolved. Now here was the interesting question: Should I flashback Lingering Souls?

This is where knowing the common decklists is crucial. Midnight Haunting stopped seeing play in most UW Delver lists so I didn’t think he had it. I thought I could wait a turn to see if I drew a land to play around Mana Leak.

Without Midnight Haunting, he wouldn’t really have anything that could punish me at instant speed except two Vapor Snags. But the probability that he had two Vapor Snags is pretty low (around 17%) and I had a 40% chance (20/50) of drawing a land next turn. (I used this Excel spreadsheet to determine his probability.)

I passed the turn and he Vapor Snagged a token on my end step.

He drew another land and cast Invisible Stalker. I drew another Champion of the Parish, which brought us to this board state:

I cast Champion of the Parish and attacked with the 2/2 Champion. He went down to 15 life. I didn’t flashback Lingering Souls for the same reasoning from last turn.

He drew yet another land, attacked with Invisible Stalker, and shipped the turn.

I drew Intangible Virtue and that brought us to the most interesting play. Here was the board state.

I thought this was a straightforward probability play. If we assume that he had four counterspells in his deck, his chance of having two counterspells in hand was 17%, the same chance of him having two Vapor Snags from two turns ago because he drew two lands in his last two turns.

Therefore, I thought the play was flashbacking Lingering Souls. If he Mana Leaked it, I’d then cast Intangible Virtue.

Also, this play would keep him from rebuying Mana Leak this turn with Snapcaster Mage since he only had five mana.

When I flashbacked Lingering Souls, he countered it with Mana Leak as you can see below:

Now the question was: Can I put him on a second counterspell?

Based on odds alone, no. But based on the way he played, it looked like he had a second Mana Leak.

Here’s the evidence. He had four cards in hand,  all spells. He didn’t cast anything on his last turn. No Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, Sword of War and Peace, Runechanter’s Pike, Snapcaster Mage. Nothing. We can rule out some of those cards. He would’ve cast Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, and Sword of War and Peace.

He definitely has a reason to leave open mana for two counterspells. I could draw a land and flashback Lingering Souls and cast Sword of War and Peace in the same turn.

He countered Lingering Souls even though I had Sword of War and Peace in hand and I could’ve drawn a land to cast it.

I was concerned about a second counterspell because Intangible Virtue is a pretty good card for my board and this matchup in general. If he had Mana Leak #2, I could play around it by drawing a land next turn. Even if I didn’t draw a land, I could draw a two-drop to bait his second counterspell so that I could resolve Intangible Virtue. If I drew a one-drop, that would be great because it would buff up both Champion of the Parishes.

So, I had a bunch of potential good draws next turn: 20 lands, 5 one-drops, and 11 two-drops. That’s 36 cards out of 48 cards left in the library. That’s a whopping 75% of the deck. You could probably even add Midnight Haunting to the list of good draws.

Of course, there are drawbacks to not casting Intagible Virtue. He could’ve gone Snapcaster Mage EOT and flashbacked Vapor Snag.

This play improves his board position but it’s still not too bad for me. I’d still have two Spirit tokens to block Insectile Abberation and more creatures on the board. Plus, that would mean he’s not flashing back Mana Leak so my spells would have a better chance of resolving.

Also, my read could be wrong. I would miss out on a dominant board position and give him an extra draw step to find a counterspell.

Each play has its pros and cons so I’m not sure what was the right play. What would you do?

Ok, back to the actual game. I only considered the odds and not his gameplay so I cast Intangible Virtue. He had Negate.

I attacked with the 2/2 Champion of the Parish and passed the turn.

He attacked with Invisible Stalker and shipped the turn.

I drew Isolated Chapel and that brought us to this board state:

Snapcaster Mage into Mana Leak was a definite possibility so I attacked with Champion of the Parish to see what he would do. He cast Snapcaster Mage to block and gave flashback to Vapor Snag.

This play should’ve told me that he had a counterspell in hand because he didn’t give flashback to the counterspells in the grave. Therefore, I should’ve just passed the turn and hoped to draw a land to play around Mana Leak next turn. Like the last situation, one-drops, two-drops, and Midnight Haunting were also good draws.

Unfortunately, in the heat of the battle, I did not recognize this. I cast Elspeth Tirel and he had a second Mana Leak.

After Vapor Snagging a token, he attacked with Invisible Stalker and cast Invisible Stalker #2.

I drew Midnight Haunting and the board state looked like this:

Midnight Haunting on his turn (or my turn if he tapped out EOT) was the safe play but I thought, there was no way he had a fourth counterspell. So, I cast Sword of War and Peace. Of course, he had Mana Leak #3.

What I should’ve realized is that he knew I had Sword of War and Peace from Gitaxian Probe. Based on the way he played last turn, what else could he have had but another counterspell? We can’t put him on Ponder, Gitaxian Probe, Sword of War and Peace, or Snapcaster Mage. Unless he was sandbagging lands and bluffing, he had to have a counterspell even though the odds disagreed. Bluffing was a possibility but from my experience, the vast majority of Magic players don’t bluff.

He attacked with both Invisible Stalkers and passed the turn.

I drew Oblivion Ring. Here was the board state:

At this point, I didn’t think he had a fifth counterspell in his hand. The odds of that are really low. He may not even have had a fifth counterspell main deck. If he had a Mana Leak, he wouldn’t have cast Invisible Stalker #2 last turn so as to have two Mana Leaks in case I drew a sixth land for Sword of War and Peace.

He probably didn’t have Snapcaster Mage either because if he had it, last turn he could’ve gone Snapcaster Mage into Ponder to look for an equipment card instead of playing Invisible Stalker #2. This play is reasonable because he needed equipment to keep up with me in case I drew a sixth land to pay for Mana Leak when I cast Sword of War and Peace.

Also, even if my read was wrong, playing Midnight Haunting on his turn is not that much better. He could counter Midnight Haunting with Snapcaster Mage + Mana Leak and I still would lose the race even if I Oblivion Ringed Insectile Aberration next turn.

So, I cast Oblivion Ring. It resolved. I exiled Insectible Aberration and swung for four damage.

He drew Snapcaster Mage. He played a sandbagged land, Seachrome Coast, and cast Snapcaster Mage to flashback Ponder. He shuffled with Ponder, attacked with both Invisible Stalkers and passed the turn.

I drew Doomed Traveler and cast it. He paid one blue to counter it with Mental Misstep. I attacked with everyone and he didn’t block. That brought us to this game state:

I decided to cast Midnight Haunting on his declare attackers step to ambush Snapcaster Mage but looking back, that play was too greedy. I didn’t need to give him outs. Fortunately, he didn’t draw a counterspell or another Snapcaster Mage and I was able to kill him the next turn after casting Gather the Townsfolk.

Victory!

 

Getting a Life (from the Loam) in Modern

When we last left our intrepid hero, he had planned a full-scale assault on the SCG Cincinnati tournament with a G/B/u Birthing Pod deck. Alas, never one to stop tinkering with his weapon of choice, he made some crucial changes the eve before the event that resulted in his colossal defeat. Morn his loss!

How did my weekend go? Well, I posted this little tidbit of wisdom the day before the tourney:

The deck I was speaking of, [card]Tempered Steel[/card], had just won the previous weekend. I thought it would fall victim to Affinity Syndrome, wherein it would be fresh in everyone’s mind, and sideboards would be packing enough hate to grind the artifacts to dust. I thought this might let me get an edge by packing additional hate for Wolf Run decks (since team Channel Fireball was running them at the PT).

It turns out I DO have the cojones to run close to zero [card]Tempered Steel[/card] hate. I have great-big-huge-solid-steel-bouncing-hairy cojones (cojones = testicles for those that don’t understand Mexican). However, just because you have the cojones, doesn’t mean you should let those cojones do your thinking for you (a thought to live by, all you hormonally charged teenagers).

(If this is to scale, you’ve got problems)

I think there exists, somewhere in this vast universe, a troop of psychic, reality-altering monkeys that patiently listen to the words of every human, in hopes that they can insert a healthy dose of irony into their lives. In case you haven’t guessed I went 1-2 drop, after encountering the metal menace multiple times.

Now that SCG Cincy has passed, I don’t have any meaningful Standard tournaments to look forward to. So, it’s time to start brewing for Modern!

After looking over a few of the PTQ results, and recent Daily lists, it seemed very obvious that there was a [card]Life from the Loam[/card]-shaped-hole in the format’s heart. One of my favorite mechanics is Retrace. Letting you turn lands into spells (albeit fairly under powered spells) is as good as fried gold. With the printing of [card]Burning Vengeance[/card] and [card]Secrets of the Dead[/card], it seemed like Retrace could fuel a potent Loam engine. This was my first take on the deck:

[deck title=Travis Hall – Retraced Vengeance]
[Lands]
2 Urborg, Tomb of Yawgmoth
1 Tolaria West
4 Scalding Tarn
1 Misty Rainforest
2 Blood Crypt
1 Stomping Ground
1 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Steam Vents
1 Breeding Pool
2 Watery Grave
1 Overgrown Tomb
2 Graven Cairns
1 Sunken Ruins
1 Island
1 Snow-covered Island
1 Forest
1 Swamp
1 Snow-covered Mountain
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
3 Snapcaster Mage
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
4 Faithless Looting
4 Thought Scour
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Raven’s Crime
1 Flame Jab
3 Life from the Loam
1 Into the Roil
4 Burning Vengeance
1 Secrets of the Dead
1 Maelstrom Pulse
1 Gifts Ungiven
3 Damnation
1 Worm Harvest
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Kitchen Finks
2 Haakon, Stromgald Scourge
2 Nameless Inversion
3 Ancient Grudge
3 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Engineered Explosives
1 Syphon Life
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

Now, I’m not the only or first person to take note of [card]Burning Vengeance[/card]’s potential. Another deck placed high in a couple Daily events using the Haakon/[card]Nameless Inversion[/card] combo (which I relegated to the sideboard). Instead, I decided to focus on a version that maximizes the number of cards it “sees” and tries to rip the opponent’s hand to shreds with [card]Raven’s Crime[/card]. [card]Faithless Looting[/card] and [card]Thought Scour[/card] were great at filling the ‘yard fast, and the deck saw enough cards to find the “answers” pretty consistently. This deck was competitive, but it had trouble with opposing deck’s top decking their way to victory. Do you have any idea how frustrating it is to get a Jund deck to no cards in hand, and kill everything they have on the board, only to watch them topdeck back-to-back-to-back [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]’s? This was definitely not the deck you want to play if you have an inclination to tilt, rage-quit, or kick things when you’re angry.

Despite my need for anger management, the format still seemed ripe for a [card]Life from the Loam[/card] deck. I decided to give [card]Seismic Assault[/card] a whirl instead of Vengeance. I love Retrace, but it does require you to run a high number of situationally sub-optimal cards. So I put my brewer’s cap back on (it’s actually an officially licensed Indiana Jones fedora) and built this:

[deck title=Travis Hall – Faithless Loaming]
[Lands]
1 Snow-Covered Mountain
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Snow-Covered Forest
2 Fire-Lit Thicket
1 Plains
3 Rootbound Crag
2 Stomping Ground
1 Mountain
2 Misty Rainforest
3 Arid Mesa
2 Snow-Covered Forest
2 Horizon Canopy
2 Raging Ravine
1 Temple Garden
[/Lands]
[Creatures]
4 Birds of Paradise
4 Tarmogoyf
3 Knight of the Reliquary
1 Kitchen Finks
4 Bloodbraid Elf
[/Creatures]
[Spells]
2 Slagstorm
4 Seismic Assault
4 Lightning Helix
4 Faithless Looting
3 Life from the Loam
3 Path to Exile
[/Spells]
[Sideboard]
3 Tormod’s Crypt
3 Ethersworn Canonist
3 Ancient Grudge
1 Ghost Quarter
1 Flame Jab
3 Kitchen Finks
1 Volcanic Fallout
[/Sideboard]
[/deck]

This deck has been doing much better (I went 3-1 in this daily a couple nights ago). Unlike the previous deck, this one puts the opponent on a very fast clock with Tarmogoyf and Knight of the Reliquary. It has resilience in [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], and can combat aggro decks with a full set of [card]Lightning Helix[/card] and [card]Kitchen Finks[/card].

On some of my card choices:

[card]Faithless Looting[/card]: The deck’s MVP. I wasn’t sure about this card making the leap to Modern, but it is for real. It’s the perfect turn 1 play for this deck, as it can set up a super powered Tarmogoyf on turn 2 (or KotR on turn 3), fill the graveyard for LftL, or help you draw out of a land heavy hand. It can be flashed back if Dredged via LftL in the late game (letting you replace the lands that you’ve returned with legitimate cards). The deck works so much better/smoother with [card]Faithless Looting[/card].

[card]Knight of the Reliquary[/card]: I could not see running [card]Countryside Crusher[/card] instead (a card I really love). The ability to fix your lands, fetch a manland, and fill the graveyard up for LftL is too strong. The Crusher always starts out as a 3/3 (and dies to Lightning Bolt), whereas it’s not that hard for KotR to enter as a 4/4 or more.

[card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card]: I don’t see how you could run less than 4 of this. She’s like the female/elven Hulk Hogan, finding a way to Hulk-Up right when you seem to be destined for defeat. You’ll just cast [card]Bloodbraid Elf[/card], Cascade into a [card]Seismic Assault[/card], or a [card]Lightning Helix[/card], and all of a sudden it’s BOOM! Atomic Legdrop and victory. I briefly considered [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], but it never seemed to do enough.

[card]Lightning Helix[/card]: I went back and forth on running [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] instead. The life gain has been relevant, but it can be [card]Spell Snare[/card]d. It may be that I favor this card over [card]Lightning Bolt[/card] due to the abundance of mono-red decks in the Tournament Practice room.

[card]Slagstorm[/card]: Since my main creatures, [/card]Tarmogoyf[/card] and KotR, will often have an ass-end greater than 3, this is a necessary concession to fight Goblin tokens and Melira combo decks.

[card]Horizon Canopy[/card]: I wanted to highlight this land. Once I get the engine going, I will often leave it untapped to return LftL at instant speed, in response to graveyard removal. I was running [card]Edge of Autumn[/card] to compliment this but [card]Horizon Canopy[/card] has proved good enough for now. I also love using it to play LftL twice a turn in the late game.

Overall, the deck looks like it has the potential to be a player in the format. Life from the Loam is an undeniably strong card (as evident by Grand Prix Lincoln). I am still tinkering with the sideboard to fight Tron decks and [card]Splinter Twin[/card]. Ultimately, the core of the deck, [card]Life from the Loam[/card], [card]Seismic Assault[/card], [card]Faithless Looting[/card], and [card]Tarmogoyf[/card] could go many different directions and could support white, black, or even blue as a third color. If you have any ideas or suggestions, feel free to comment below!

If you like my deck ideas or suggestions, you can follow me on Twitter: @travishall456. I throw around random observations and deck concepts every day.

All Suns’ Dawn – Staying Financially Beneficial with DKA

Well, it’s been another three months, and we have another set coming out. I always feel like the Magic community is a pretty lucky group of individuals in that they get four additional Christmases a year now, even if getting the Titans back in M12 was more like coal in our stockings. While I think Dark Ascension as a set certainly doesn’t have a high EV, it will definitely shake up all of the Constructed formats that we play. With the prices of the set inflated from preorders, I thought we would go over what I believe will be affected on the financial scene, so that you can continue to stay financially beneficial. But, a small aside before I begin:

Lately, I’ve been a little more focused on the financial side of Magic, receiving special opportunities to work with some vendors local to me. One of these vendors is my close friend, Matt Kranstuber, who has given me opportunities to work as a buyer for his business. I will say, it’s definitely a whole new world sitting on the other side of a booth and offering money for peoples’ cards. Before an event there is a lot of careful coordination, ranging from what cards (and how many of each) you need for your booth/store to function during the event to what prices you’re putting on your stock. Can you match the demand at a Standard event? Will you have hot cards like [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card] or [card]Sword of War and Peace[/card] on hand? If you have ten of each in your inventory, how many more, if any, do you need?

At the end of that list, I believe you reach the hardest part, which is setting your buy prices and quantities. The internet age is among us, and a majority of players have access to smart phones. This means that even if you’re the only vendor at an event, you still have to compete with everyone else just the same. That said, this Saturday, like the Innistrad Pre-Release, with the elimination of regional events, my LGS (local gaming store), Comic Town in Columbus, Ohio, was flooded.  We broke well a hundred people… and even had to invade the next door Subway for a couple of hours!

With so many people in an event where we didn’t plan for such volume, the buys that you make have to be a lot more targeted and a lot more focused. This makes sure everyone has a chance to make a deal with you and feel like they’re involved in your business. I had already created a couple of spreadsheets focusing on Standard, which I figured was the best thing to focus on in this type of situation. It is the most popular format and the prices are driven by large scale national success, mainly events like Star City Games Opens. Legacy is similar, but is not so hugely affected, since it isn’t gaining 15%+ of its card pool in one weekend. My article today is about what cards I tried to focus my buying on and why you should look to get them before any potential Top 16’s get posted at Richmond this weekend.

The most important thing to remember about adding this new set in is that because large events like Star City Games Opens are likely to occur on Release weekend, is that you have seven days from the Pre-Release to get what you need, before risking a very volatile price increase. I’m not really talking about the Dark Ascension cards; those are already pretty high from Preorder hype and so forth. What about everything else? Mythics can spike at a given moment. Dollar bins are all of the sudden cannibalized. At the time of this article, we probably only have 3-4 days to prepare.

What does Dark Ascension offer? This is the most important, but basic question for the set. I’m sure that you’ve heard everyone talk about [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] so I’ll spare you from another section about it. But besides that, here’s my take on what the new set offers, and what cards they’re going to be affecting. I won’t even use an 8-ball! Are you ready?

 #1) Token Strategies

This is kind of a no-brainer for the set, since we’re gaining cards like [card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card], [card]Lingering Souls[/card], and [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card], in a format where we already have access to eight 2-mana anthem effects. It also gains [card]Vault of the Archangel[/card], which is the better of the two rare utility lands out of the set and in the running for the best in the block so far. [card]Moorland Haunt[/card] probably still has that honor, but by a very small margin. There will be people who want to play the deck, and people who want to fight it. This opens up a great opportunity for an increase in card demand. Some rares I paid more attention to this weekend because of this:

Champion of the Parish

 

Since I don’t want to necessarily align with any one store, I’m going to use the secondary market, particularly eBay, to address all of my comparison needs. The Black Lotus Project (http://blacklotusproject.com/) compiles most of these prices and gives a good estimate of what the average closing price is. While it’s not as useful for older cards (due to condition and low frequency of purchase), it’s great for evaluating the secondary market value of a newer set. [card]Champion of the Parish[/card] started off selling for approximately $4.00/ea, and quickly plummeted, as most new cards do, to a nadir of $2.27/ea at the beginning of January. It has started to make its comeback, and has slowly risen to $2.81/ea. An increase like that seems insignificant, but consider that most decks play four copies, and those small increases do add up in multiples. It saw play UW Humans like Craig Wescoe’s build that Top 16’ed GP Orlando, and now has its potential increased with the new token support cards.

My take: If UW Humans is still a contender (there is no reason it won’t be), then introducing W/x tokens to the format will increase the demand for this card. Taxing countermagic like [card]Mana Leak[/card] is not great against it, and it will put up a fight against the [card]Delver of Secrets[/card] decks. I can see this card in a similar level to [card]Mirran Crusader[/card].

Curse of Death’s Hold

Bulk Rare. Limited Bomb. Potential sideboard staple? We all know how good this card is in Limited, but we have to choose between Bulk Rare and sideboard staple. When you have a new archetype entering the format, you have to consider possible answers. With [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card], you have the positive of it being a permanent and continuous effect on the battlefield. But you also have the negative of only having a card that gives -1/-1 against eight anthem effects. People obviously have faith in it 3BB to fight 1W doesn’t seem fair, does it? How about something that will have a similar effect for XBB?

Black Sun’s Zenith

It’s tough to imagine that [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] was just a little over $2.00 before Innistrad’s release. It’s seen a pretty steep rise since the beginning of January (see a trend here?), and is now averaging $3.43/ea at closing on eBay. Its effect for XBB does a job similar to what [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] does against tokens, but is more flexiable since you can choose how much you want to pay for X. No anthem effects out or you have an answer to them? Pay 1. Things getting out of hand? Pay more. It is reusable, shuffling back in your library after use. However, it doesn’t answer instant speed token generators like [card]Midnight Haunting[/card] very well, and doesn’t do a great job against value cards like [card]Doomed Traveler[/card] or [card]Loyal Cathar[/card].

Ratchet Bomb

Mainly a choice if your deck can’t support the above two answers or cards like [card]Whipflare[/card] and [card]Slagstorm[/card], [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card] gives non-red, non-black decks an answer to this archetype as well. Two counters on it answers anthems, zero counters answers hordes of tokens. It also gets a little bit of application in Modern. While I haven’t seen a significant trend on The Black Lotus Project for [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], vendors have definitely taken notice. I have seen most vendors increase their buy prices on [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], and trying to beat the new buy price of $3.00 was not too pleasing over the weekend.

My take on the three: I think the latter two are for real in a vacuum, and that [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card] is the imposter out of the pack. In a combination, I could see these cards effective together (for example, [card]Black Sun’s Zenith[/card] followed by [card]Curse of Death’s Hold[/card]), but those game situations aren’t necessarily practical. I focused mainly on the [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card]s this weekend, as I feel it is the most versatile against a range of archetypes.

And we move forward to the Mythic Rares! Here are two that I paid attention to this weekend:

Mikaeus, the Lunarch

[card]Mikaeus, the Lunarch[/card] is a particularly interesting card. It was spoiled in From the Vault: Legends, so its alternate printing will have a negative impact on its value. It started fairly high for a Mythic, but has dipped below $3.00, leveling out around $2.89. But knowing the number of Mythics relative to the regular rares and the high volatility of Mythic Rare prices, I feel like this card is worth picking up. It’s a great way to fight the mirror match when you have a ticking extra anthem effect; I see it as a slower [card]Ajani Goldmane[/card] -2 ability (which combined with [card]Intangible Virtue[/card] it is; build your own Planeswalker effect!). It’s tutorable by [card]Ranger of Eos[/card] in formats where both are legal. It’s also great in casual and useable Commander general, even if [card]Rhys the Redeemed[/card] can edge it out of its spot.

My take: I offered $2.00 and $2.50 aggressively this weekend just to have them in stock, and no one sold me their copies. I don’t think those encounters were flukes based on the other cards I bought from them. If you can still get them for cheap, I would go for it. At the very least, for the reasons that I mentioned, your gamble will break even.

Massacre Wurm

I have to give a shout out to Quiet Speculation writer and friend Mike Lanigan for giving out the tip. I’ve been thinking about [card]Massacre Wurm[/card]’s potential for a little bit now and I haven’t pulled the trigger on it until Mike started talking about it. The reason that it’s different from the other sweepers in black is that it leaves behind a 6/5 body with an interesting effect for value. Right now their eBay closings are literally the same as their retail price around $3.00, but major retailers that were stockpiling them have risen those prices a tad. [card]Massacre Wurm[/card] likely has no potential in any Eternal formats, but it will always have a casual and Commander appeal, so if it does see play in Standard, there will be a significant price increase.

My take: I would pick these up around $3.00 in trade if you can. The same general logic applies to Mikaeus. It’s not an unusable Mythic Rare and it’s not narrow in utility so you have something to fall back on.

#2) Keyword Themed Strategies

I wasn’t sure how to clump this section together, but I think Keyword Themed Strategies works. We gained two interesting keywords that have interactions with previous Standard cards or archetypes. Let’s start with Undying, which is pretty much the reverse Persist. One of my favorite cards in this set is [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card], and I hope it sees play in the upcoming months.

Birthing Pod

[card]Birthing Pod[/card] has already seen one spike, but Innistrad brought [card]Ancient Grudge[/card] and it quickly dropped in popularity. Is it still playable? Is it still going to be washed up? Well, regardless, [card]Birthing Pod[/card] is the definition of value creatures, and Undying fits that description pretty well. So does [card]Massacre Wurm[/card]. From Dark Ascension, [card]Vorapede[/card] is very interesting, and will likely see a little bit more love once the Titans make an exit from Standard during the summer. The price has been on the steady decline, and has leveled out around $3.48/ea. It seems like right now would be a good time to pick them up.

Surgical Extraction

If you want to fight Undying, the most basic types of answers are general graveyard hosers. Prior to Dark Ascension, in Standard it was either [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] or [card]Nihil Spellbomb[/card]. Even with [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] in the format, [card]Surgical Extraction[/card] still has the potential to see significant play. It has extra value with [card]Snapcaster Mage[/card] and doesn’t have to be solely targeted to card with graveyard/library interactions. Its Phyrexian mana cost has made it one of the go-to graveyard hate choices in all four major Constructed formats. I mentioned this in my last article and I still stand behind it; even with the Buy-a-Box Promo, it’s still closing at almost $20/set on eBay.

Hex Parasite

Here’s a rare from a third set of a block that has the ability to interact with two mechanics in Dark Ascension. [card]Hex Parasite[/card] can remove the +1/+1 counter gained by Undying so you can re-buy another creature. The more interesting interaction it has with Dark Ascension is the ability to get active Fateful Hour in a hurry. We already have theoretical builds out there with turn one Hex Parasite, pay 15, turn two [card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card], turn three [card]Thraben Doomsayer[/card], 18 you. It also has its own tutor in the format via [card]Trinket Mage[/card] (which fits better into [card]Birthing Pod[/card] decks than Fateful Hour decks).

#3) Tribal Wars!

The last section of cards that I focused on was cards with tribal themes. We got some 3cc lords in Dark Ascension, and although there isn’t as heavy of tribal support as in, say, Lorwyn, it still reminds me of the cycle of lords in that set. Most of the UW cards are already high like [card]Seachrome Coast[/card] and [card]Geist of Saint Traft[/card], which interact well with [card]Drogskol Captain[/card]. Some other cards that I highlighted:

Howl of the Nightpack

Since we gain [card]Immerwolf[/card] in this set along with a potential 4cc bomb in [card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card], as well as a 1cc Werewolf reminiscent of [card]Basking Rootwalla[/card] in [card]Wolfbitten Captive[/card], I think people will be pushed to make RG Werewolves happen. One of the cards that brings these creatures together is [card]Mayor of Avabruck[/card]. It’s a very cheap pickup and is the release promo for Innistrad, but has a lot of appeal in the 2cc slot. It’s hard to be behind a tribe that is cold to a [card]Ratchet Bomb[/card], but when Scars of Mirrodin Block rotates, I believe it will pay off. Make sure you get your [card]Copperline Gorges[/card] too. [card]Rootbound Crag[/card] has seen an additional printing from the Premium Slivers deck and is unlikely to rise much.

Braaaaaainssss!!!

When Innistrad was released, there were a lot of questions with how much support Zombies would see in a graveyard block. [card]Cemetery Reaper[/card] saw a temporary spike in price, but the hype died when all we got were [card]Diregraf Ghoul[/card] and a marginally playable [card]Ghoulcaller’s Chant[/card]. Well, with Dark Ascension [card]Gravecrawler[/card] and [card]Diregraf Captain[/card] were introduced to the format, along with an interesting removal spell in [card]Tragic Slip[/card]. I think these elements allows Zombies to also become a deck. [card]Zombie Apocalypse[/card] is cute, but most likely not playable due to its cost. Likewise with our previous tribe, look into grabbing [card]Drowned Catacomb[/card] and [card]Darkslick Shores[/card].

A Bump in the Night

This is the last tribe that I think gets a boost from Dark Ascension is of course, the Vampire tribe. It looks a lot different from B/R Vampires from Standard when Zendikar was legal, but there is a more playable lord in [card]Stromkirk Captain[/card], and a wild card via [card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card] from the new set. I’m not sure what to think about the Aristocrat at the moment, as it will have two other competing 4cc Vampires. [card]Olivia Voldaren[/card] will still be the go-to card against big creatures and Titans, which trumps opposing ramp and control strategies. As for [card]Bloodline Keeper[/card], because of cards like [card]Vapor Snag[/card] and how long it will take to set up the battle station, I don’t see it going up too much higher than it already is (although it has been making an impact on the casual market). The red archetypes will also gain [card]Torch Fiend[/card], which although not a Vampire, provides a great answer to Equipment, a staple in UW Delver and other current decks in Standard. While the blue pairs of M12-Fastland combinations are already pretty high and only likely to hold their price, [card]Dragonskull Summit[/card] and [card]Blackcleave Cliffs[/card] have both seen a more significant increase in the past couple of weeks.

All right, that’s all I have for this article. I hope your Pre-Releases went well and that your Release events go even better! Keep aware of what’s doing well in Standard over the weekend and these pickups. I’m looking forward to attending SCG Cincinnati myself next weekend, so if you plan on going come say hi!

Thanks for reading,

–Mark

@AllSunsDawn on Twitter

chbe.sun@gmail.com

Smi77y’s Angels- Dark Ascension

It’s that time of the year again where I gather my angels (underrated/quality cards) and make my bold predictions as to what will be a constructed player in the coming months or even years. There have already been quite a few set reviews posted by various well-respected community members and pro tour members, however I assure you this is solely based off of my own growing card evaluation skills. These choices reflect not only playability and hidden power I see in a card, it also is heavily influenced by how excited I am by the card. One of my predictions in the past was [card]Spellskite[/card], which to most seems like an obvious choice, although at the time I was very much partial to the card as you can tell from the many Eh Team episodes I screamed “skeet skeet.”

These choices often ignore the most obvious of inclusions. For instance – we all know Sorin is amazing and powerful, but he doesn’t belong on this list for a couple of reasons. The first being, I try to avoid obvious playability for the sake of relevance. Second, he’s just a good card, nothing that really excites me at all. Not even his gimp eyed art.
Enough of the history lesson, especially one that relates to nerdy old me. Here are my angels for Dark Ascension in no particular order – and some runner ups near the end.

Perhaps the most powerful card in the set, and yes I remember Sorin is in the set when I say this! Vault of the Archangel is incredibly powerful to say the least. As long as [card]Primeval Titan[/card] is around this card will be that much better. I’ve already began my brewing around [card]Primeval Titan[/card] and Vault of the Archangel – you can find that list over on this page. What’s amazing is I’ve only seen this card in straight BW tokens and it will be in so many more decks than that, I’m very confident about this.

Vault of the Archangel is not only a powerhouse rare, it’s also just a sexy card in general. From the art to the flavor this is a must have from Dark Ascension. I could even see it making its way to the modern format before too long. I know I’ll be trying!
Up next I’m very partial to Increasing Devotion

Some of you may know how much I loved [card]Conqueror’s Pledge[/card] and this card is so much better than [card]Conqueror’s Pledge[/card]. It’s better mostly because of having a flashback option. It’s not only built in card advantage its additional card advantage by using flashback. This makes the card much better than Pledge ever was vs counter spells. This is by far the best “Increasing” rare cycle. It’s no coincidence this is also in my Titan Tokens deck list. It interacts very well with [card]Mulch[/card], [card]Gavony Township[/card], and Vault of the Archangel!

Increasing Devotion isn’t a card that will see as much play as Vault of the Archangel as it is much more specialized in terms of the decks it can be used in. In a simple tokens list 5cc is the very top of the curve if you even make it that far. So its flashback ability won’t often become useful. I see this being abused in ramp strategies or control strategies where games either involve fast mana or a strategy involving late game shenanigans. In fact I could see control decks really opting for something like this similar to what [card]White Sun’s Zenith[/card] has been doing lately.

My last pick is extremely difficult. Originally I’m sure I would have put [card]Strangleroot Geist[/card] here as the card is simply awesome (despite the awful art), but the double green casting cost really limits where it will end up. And currently there isn’t much room for this relentless fellow. My last pick is actually going to be quite bold, but bear with me.

For three mana, and at sorcery speed this card seems very underwhelming to say the least. Sometimes you simply can’t or don’t want to cast this. I see this card falling into some sort of combo deck, most likely one that involves graveyard explosions (maybe some [card]Zombie Apocalypse[/card]?). But we are in a graveyard themed set, and this card is highly splashable which ups its playability. Don’t even get me started on the art either! The art is one of the cooler pieces in the set.

Red is already a color of artifact hate, which helps with [card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card] in the set. So setting up some combo with this card despite the hate inside the block is doable. Let’s not forget this card even has flashback on its own.

I’m sure you aren’t quite convinced, and that’s fine, but take a look at this scenario. Let’s say your back is against the ropes and your hand consists of two lands and Shattered Perception, that’s not going to do you any good. Much like [card]Desperate Ravings[/card] you are completely “ok” with dumping what you have to possibly find an answer to a grim situation. I think Shattered Perception will find its way into Modern before it does Standard at this point. I haven’t found the right deck yet, but I bet one is out there to explore! This card has a unique effect that you can use twice, you will see this at some point and it will be a very fun deck to play.

It’s always the worst that I restrict myself to three choices. I have so many more cards I love to death from this set. Will it shake up Standard all that much? Maybe, maybe not. But I know I already enjoy trying. Here are some of my picks for the better cards of the set.

[card]Dawntreader Elk[/card]
[card]Lingering Souls[/card]
[card]Tragic Slip[/card]
[card]Undying Evil[/card] (for reals!)
[card]Gravecrawler[/card]
[card]Geralf’s Messenger[/card]
[card]Gather the Townsfolk[/card]
[card]Loyal Cathar[/card]
[card]Thalia, Guardian of Thraben[/card]
[card]Faithless Looting[/card]
[card]Hellrider[/card]
[card]Strangleroot Geist[/card]
[card]Vorapede[/card]
All the new lords
[card]Grafdigger’s Cage[/card]
[card]Sorin, Lord of Innistrad[/card]
[card]Huntmaster of the Fells[/card]
[card]Falkenrath Aristocrat[/card]

And I’m sure I’m missing some! But until next time, I’m out!