Very Cryptic Command

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Exclusive Preview: Very Cryptic Command!

Very Cryptic Command

It’s Kind of Like a Cryptic Command

The “Very” variety is reminiscent of the classic in many ways.

  • It is a Command (and in fact, a “Cryptic” one).
  • As such, it has several modes, and asks you to choose two of them.
  • And of course, there is the UUU1 in the top-right corner

But in terms of game play? This is a whole other instant!

Well that’s one way to do it…

Isn’t it weird that an Un-set card — ostensibly built for fun rather than Spikes — is primarily geared towards making:

  • Infinite mana, and
  • Infinite storm count

Isn’t it?

Right?

If you have two copies of Gilded Lotus and two copies of this instant you can tap for UUUUUU, cast Very Cryptic Command to untap the artifacts and re-buy your other Very Cryptic Command.

Then you can do this all you want, over and over again.

Welcome to having as much mana as you want! Eventually, you can use one of the other modes to do anything else, move ahead (and presumably take advantage of your limitless mana and storm count).

Fun… For you, at least!

Our thoughts on this most Unstable of Unstable cards in “Very Cryptic Command”

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Masterfully Metagaming Sand Strangler

Sand Strangler
Sand Strangler Graduates to Main Deck!
Stephen King said it.

William Faulkner said it first.

Kill. Your. Darlings.

Which darlings, you ask.

How about the automatic three-of (if not four-of) at the Ramunap Red four? Hazoret the Fervent.

Cut Hazoret? Are you crazy?

Hazoret the Fervent versus Whirler Virtuoso

As a red mage, have you ever faced off against Whirler Virtuoso? If you haven’t, it sucks. It’s just really hard to bust through, even though you have one of the best offensive threats in the format.

Now imagine — assuming sufficient Desert power — Sand Strangler against Whirler Virtuoso.

Smoosh, right? Smoosh.

When essentially half of the format is Energy decks, Sand Strangler over Hazoret main deck starts to make more sense.

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark executed on exactly this plan, finishing in the finals of Grand Prix Atlanta with a new look at Ramunap Ruins.

For reference:
Desert Red, by Ben Stark

Wait a minute! Don’t I just suck in the mirror now?

While cutting Hazoret — one of the most important cards in the mirror match — certainly costs you percentage in the mirror, Ben counterbalanced with the duo of Sand Strangler and Glorybringer.

Remember: Sand Strangler and Glorybringer are two of the most frequently sided in cards in Red Deck mirrors.

So while you lose some Hazoret points, you get back some “free” sideboard creature points.

… And it’s not like Ben’s deck can’t side in a bunch of Hazorets after boards.

But mathematically? There is more Energy than Red right now. Ben’s metagaming was simply masterful.

New Decks Aplenty

Desert Red was cool, but it wasn’t alone.

This week Patrick and Mike tackle such instant classics as:

  • Esper Approach of the Second Sun
  • U/G Electrostatic Pummeler (with four copies of Bristling Hydra, for Mike)
  • Grixis builds aplenty

Check out “Masterfully Metagaming Sand Strangler” and you too may just become a metagame master:

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Energizing River’s Rebuke

River's Rebuke

Meet River’s Rebuke: Mirror-Breaker

Have you ever played the Temur Energy mirror match? And by “Temur” Energy we would include Four-color Energy and its cousins. The archetype is so good at brick walling itself.

Everyone has plenty of material. Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, and Planeswalkers can help develop resources. The Scarab God gives you something to do with your long-term land. It can bust through opposing defenses over time, and from multiple directions. Glorybringer — especially in multiples — combines evasion with card advantage. And Planeswalker-slaying!

But yet, Whirler Virtuoso is so good at keeping damage at bay!

How are you supposed to bust through?

May we suggest River’s Rebuke?

River’s Rebuke: Next Level Sideboarding

Here’s the thing about River’s Rebuke.

It’s a sorcery.

Who sides in Negate against Temur Energy? You know, the deck with 21-25 creatures? Would you side in Negate? What do you plan to Negate? A giant Vehicle? You’ve already got Abrade for that.

Whatever Negate!

It sits in your sideboard.

Meanwhile, you and your opponent accumulate more and more material, brick walling one another until…

Somebody Casts River’s Rebuke

Here’s the other thing about River’s Rebuke. It’s one-sided. Many times when you cast it, the game will be over that turn. You know all that Whirler Virtuoso brick walling? Ain’t no one home to defend. Even The Scarab God is going to fail in the face of River’s Rebuke.

Two members of the Pro Tour Ixalan Top 8 — Christian Hauk and Piotr Glogowski — ran it last weekend.

Temur Wasn’t Even the “Good” Energy Deck

Sultai Energy in the hands of former World Champion Seth Manfield reigned supreme. The trickiest of the Energy decks, Sultai has a two-card combo of Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense that few decks want to tussle with.

Learn more about Temur, Sultai, and the entire PT Ixalan Top 8 in “Energizing River’s Rebuke” now!

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Approach of the Second Sun at Pro Tour Ixalan

Approach of the Second Sun

Approach of the Second Sun

Patrick is coming to us straight from Pro Tour Ixalan this week! He played a new take on R/W Approach of the Second Sun with Sunbird’s Invocation, but more mana and fewer expensive spells.

The Pro Tour is lousy with Temur Energy (and Four-color Energy, and Sultai Energy)… But that just gives it structure to attack! Patrick’s approach to Approach seems thought-provoking now, and sounds like it will be influential moving forward. Most opponents have many “dead” cards in Game One. Imagine the B/U Control opponent who cycles through his entire deck with Search for Azcanta only to find… There is nothing to find.

Or the Energy deck (or any deck, really) that doesn’t kill you fast enough… Can they stop you from playing your Approaches?

Well… Sometimes 🙂

Give it a listen:

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The Rise of Ixalan in Modern

Modern remains one of the freshest, most dynamic, Magic formats. One of the big reasons? Ixalan in Modern is driving new combinations, and even new archetypes!

Modern Manipulation: Opt

Opt

The funny thing about Opt is that it is barely playable at all in Standard… But it is awesome in Modern!

The secret is that the efficacy of cards — in particular library manipulation cards — is inversely proportional to their casting costs in larger formats. Opt helps make combo decks like Storm more consistent. It also helps keep them going once they start to go off…

And of course? Being a one mana instant is one of the best things you can be.

And Opt is.

For reference: U/R Gifts Storm, by Scott Simmons

Modern Mana: Unclaimed Territory

Unclaimed Territory

It’s not that Unclaimed Territory is so great (though it’s pretty good)… It’s the critical mass this land represents when combined with Ancient Ziggurat and Cavern of Souls.

Collins Mullin absolutely destroyed last weekend’s Open with a Humans deck with only 4 Aether Vials — deck or sideboard — as his only non-creature spells.

Mullen could cast any Human he wanted. All these lands that can tap for any color, put together, let him consistently play Noble Hierarch at the one, [fellow Ixalan Staple] Kitesail Freebooter come two, and Mantis Rider on three mana. Mantis Rider!

That’s G, B1, and URW!

For reference: Humans, by Collins Mullen

Modern Merfolk: Deeproot Waters

Deeproot Waters

Ixalan gives Merfolk players some actual new Merfok. However their sideboard enchantment may be more interesting, and seems much, much more powerful.

Deeproot Waters is quite like an Oketra’s Monument… With tons of upside.

It’s not just that you can make a 1/1 like the white artifact; because Merfolk is full of Lords — Lord of Atlantis, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Merrow Reejerey — so it is probably a safe bet your enchantment will spit out 2/2 or 3/3 Merfolk.

For reference: U/G Merfolk, by Jeremy Bertarioni

These ideas are just scratching the surface of Ixalan in Modern. Settle the Wreckage, Field of Ruin, and Merfolk Branchwalker all performed last week, and in different decks!

Learn more about Ixalan in Modern here!

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How to Approach Sunbird’s Invocation

Sunbird's Invocation
Sunbird’s Invocation was a “Perfect 10” at US Nationals

The Sunbird’s Invocation Combo

Adam Bialkowski busted open Standard with a 10th-place finish at US Nationals last weekend. He used a R/W Board Control-slash-Combo deck utilizing this big red six and a certain favorite white seven…

Approach of the Second Sun
Here’s the simple explanation of this combination:

  1. You play Sunbird’s Invocation on six.
  2. You untap and play Approach of the Second Sun on seven.
  3. When you cast Approach of the Second Sun, the Invocation digs through the top of your library to check if there is an Approach of the Second Sun there; if there is, it will cast it for you.
  4. Your first Approach of the Second Sun (which you cast from your hand, remember) checks to see if you cast another Approach this game… You did!
  5. Ding!

This together, these two cards represent a turn seven insta-win combo.

Sunbird’s Invocation Fail State

So you’ve invested six mana in a big red enchantment.

Miraculously, you’ve untapped, still alive.

However you don’t have an Approach of the Second Sun…

What’s a girl to do?

Chin up, Planeswalker! So you don’t have a turn seven insta-win! That doesn’t mean you don’t have game…

Your Invocation plays a pretty good “personal Howling Mine” once you’ve untapped. Basically, your spells can potentially snowball into more and more spells. In the 10th place version, there are a ton of expensive cards — tons of fives sixes and of course sevens — that make its centerpiece enchantment really look good.

What’s Wrong with Sunbird’s Invocation?

If there is anything “wrong” with the Perfect 10, it might be all those expensive cards!

Adam certainly benefited from a (current?) (short-term?) gap in Mono-Red popularity. The archetype version only has one Magma Spray in the main deck, and no real way to develop its game plan against B/U Control in the early game. Further, it has a lot of expensive cards but no great way to ensure it hits all its land drops.

That isn’t taking anything away from the innovation; just to say that there is still a lot of room for optimization.

A flaming owl wasn’t the only hot Hot HOT deck to stand out at US Nationals. Check out “” now to learn more about Abzan Tokens, Mardu Vehicles, and more on the B/U Control v. U/W Control matchup in Standard!

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The Best Decks in the Worlds

Worlds Favorite: Longtusk Cub
Longtusk Cub headlined one of the best decks in the Worlds
Worlds was awesome!

We saw an amazing overlap of one of the best players of all time wielding those top skills at exactly the right time, combined with great preparation and and even better 60/75.

But we get it.

You have questions…

Top Level Podcast is here to answer those questions this week! Questions like…

  • If The Scarab God is so good, why didn’t Huey play it in his Temur Energy deck?
  • Is Commit // Memory an ace-level replacement for The Scarab God… Or basically just a boring old Utter End?
  • Is Longtusk Cub secretly just the best card in Standard?
  • Why should you play “Treasure Red” instead of regular old Ramunap Red?
  • When should you play any of the following, and in which order? Opt, Hieroglyphic Illumination, Glimmer of Genius
  • Will Huey be the first person to win Worlds, and then win Nationals the very next week?

Don’t you fret, beloved listeners! The answers to these and other burning questions await in…

The Best Decks in the Worlds

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The Deadliest Uses for Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker
Some cards are just better than the others. Hostage Taker is already one of the best.

Actually… Make that Better than the Best

Brainstorm. Fact or Fiction. Oath of Druids.

Vampiric Tutor. Hermit Druid. Upheaval.

The Top 8 of Pro Tour Houston 2003 sounds like the love child of the Banned and Restricted List and a general rundown of the best spells from almost any format. But the best card of the era? Believe it or not?

Faceless Butcher.

Faceless Butcher!

Faceless Butcher
Weird, right?

A four-of in Mono-Black Reanimator and a key bullet in The Rock’s sideboard, Faceless Butcher was a cast-able answer to everything from a mid-range All-Star like Spiritmonger to a combo-riffic 20/20 Cognivore.

Hostage Taker is like Faceless Butcher… But way, way, better. It has the same basic ability, but offers the opportunity for a three-for-one upgrade (rather than just two-for-one).

Five Mana: The New “Splinter Twin” Combo

How are you supposed to deal with The Scarab God? A Fatal Push? Ask it to Walk the Plank? Stockpile a bunch of energy and hit it with Harnessed Lightning?

None of those seem like very good solutions to The Scarab God.

What about removing it from game?

Hostage Taker seems like a great way to deal with The Scarab God… Only that 2/3 body isn’t exactly durable. Every Abrade and Lightning Strike (plus like half the Fatal Pushes) will kill it.

… Unless you make it hexproof or something. So that’s why, Sultai!

Blossoming Defense
Hostage Taker + Blossoming Defense is like peanut butter and chocolate.
When you put Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense together, you can — for sake of argument — exile the opponent’s The Scarab God (which you would probably have to do to win, anyway)… And catch your breath for one mana. All you need to do is get the untap and that The Scarab God can be yours! You will be the unbeatable mage!

A great solution to a certain supposedly “indestructible” red God, Hostage Taker is nevertheless quite vulnerable to a Red Deck’s many point removal spells. Blossoming Defense is equally useful here while you bide your time for the untap.

Hostage Taker: Taking Hostages Here, There, Everywhere

Sultai ruled the day at the first Standard Open of the season… But who knows just how far the long shadow of Hostage Taker may loom? God Pharaoh’s Gift decks seem to be leaning towards the black and blue of Esper. There might be an honest to god Pirates deck hiding in the metagame. Poor dinosaurs! It’s gotta suck to have such great creatures… Only to have to deal with them yourself when The Scarab God and Hostage Taker are across the table.

More on Hostage Taker’s meteoric rise (and the rest of the opening weekend of Ixalan Standard) right here:

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Lessons from Pious Interdiction

Pious Interdiction

What Can We Learn from Pious Interdiction?

Often competitive players will look at a card like Pious Interdiction — which has what might be a desirable effect if at a hefty cost — and discard it out of hand.

But when was the last time you asked yourself what drove that kind of thinking? Are there contexts where you would want a card like this? If so, when?

Mike — winner of his Midnight Prerelease — can certainly point to a time!

Pious Interdiction can be a heck of a Limited card

That’s right! Pious Interdiction can certainly get it done in forty card decks!

… That’s actually how Patrick and Mike got into the discussion this week! Mike was lucky enough to open four copies of Pious Interdiction, and they did such a great job of nullifying his opponents’ key flyers or fat green creatures he was almost ready to sign up for Pious Interdiction in Constructed.

Almost.

The problem — part of the problem anyway — with Pious Interdiction is just the cost.

The cost is both the “right answer” and too simple of an answer, though. While this aura is great at interacting with threats like Sealed Deck where so many of an opponent’s cards will be more expensive than in Standard, four mana can be a big ask in sixty card decks.

Patrick is quick to caution that general rules about how much things “should” cost for certain effects can be foolhardy. We must always be mindful of context.

Pious Interdiction v. the World

For the current Standard, at least, Pious Interdiction has plenty of context around it, helping to define is viability (or non-viability).

Cast Out also costs four mana, but has so much flexibility around Flash, Cycling, and the option to exile non-creature permanents. For that matter, Cast Out does a much better job, generally, of interacting with creatures! Cast Out isn’t always better for four mana, as there are times you will want to gain two life… But it’s usually better.

If you’re really in the market for an overcosted Pacifism that gains life, might we suggest a Desert’s Hold?

Desert's Hold
Desert’s Hold doesn’t let you get away with deck building free or anything… You have to build your deck with Deserts — and you have to have Deserts either in play or in the graveyard to get the bonus — but it both costs less mana and gains more life than Pious Interdiction. Yet Desert’s Hold is far from a popular Constructed card.

Join Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores in this eye-opening theoretical discussion, plus more — much more — actual Constructed quality cards from Ixalan in this week’s episode!

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This week’s episode of the Top Level Podcast is brought to you by Mack Weldon. For 20% off your order, visit http://www.mackweldon.com and use the promo code toplevel

Just How Good are the Blasting Cannons?

Vance's Blasting Cannons

Vance’s Blasting Cannons: The Final Flip

Last week, when gushing over flip cards like Search for Azcanta, we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to see the red member of the cycle.

Unlike a certain blue transformer for two, this card is a bit controversial. Where, if anywhere, would you want to play it? Would a red aggressive deck ever want to run it over either an indestructible god or a Rowdy Crew?

“Well,” Mike points out, “at least the flip condition is a ‘may'” …

Outpost Siege v. Vance’s Blasting Cannons

Outpost Siege
Is Outpost Siege where we set the bar?
The most obvious point of comparison for this new card is Outpost Siege.

For its part, Outpost Siege served every role from “main-deck four-of in R/W aggro” to “sideboard role player competing with its day’s Chandra at the four”. Regardless of how you want to slice it, Outpost Siege was a stronger card than Vance’s Blasting Cannons (at least the front side).

To wit:

  • Outpost Siege had two different modes: Not only was it a potential source of incremental card advantage over time, the “Dragons” setting was a way to win.
  • Outpost Siege was not a Legendary permanent. You could have multiple copies in play! Mike probably still has nightmares about facing Sam Black with two Khans and a Dragons on camera
  • Outpost Siege allowed you to play both spells and lands as extra resources. Vance’s Blasting Cannons is kinda sorta only 60% of an Outpost Siege (again, with half the options). So 30-33% on its face? How annoying would it be to reveal a land (that you can’t play) and then not draw a land (when you need one)? Gross, right?

But the bar isn’t whether this is better or worse than Outpost Siege in the abstract; the front-side is pretty much worse. The question is if it is good enough to play anyway.

And we can’t answer that question without addressing…

Vance’s Blasting Cannons // Spitfire Bastion

Spitfire Bastion
Is the payoff on Spitfire Bastion worth the work?

“Would you play a card that read “RR4. Enchantment. 2R, Tap: Deal three damage to target creature or player?”
-Patrick

Probably not?

While Mike wouldn’t play such a conjectural card (probably), it is useful to think of the final flip as potentially three different cards:

  1. The aforementioned 30-33% of an Outpost Siege: This card is a source of incremental card advantage that pays off only after you’ve untapped successfully with it in play. More than that, it really only pays off after multiple turns.
  2. The conjectural six mana enchantment. This version flips immediately, gives you a potential mana boost (you can still, say, cast a Shock or Magma Spray), but will only offer the full value at very high mana / late in the game
  3. Spitfire Bastion

Spitfire Bastion is a source of inevitability, not unlike fellow land Ramanup Ruins. Decks like U/R Control, for example, can’t allow this to flip, because no matter how well they close out on creatures, they will likely lose the game three life points at a time.

Mike — ever fearful of Kor Firewalker — points out that as a colorless source of damage, Spitfire Bastion can kill the hell out of Protection from Red creatures.

So what do you think about this last transformer? The Top Level Podcast boys revisit some of the others and a whole mess of Ixalan cards in this week’s episode.

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This week’s episode of the Top Level Podcast is brought to you by Mack Weldon. For 20% off your order, visit http://www.mackweldon.com and use the promo code toplevel