Torrential Gearhulk Masterpieces

Torrential Gearhulk
The “original” Torrential Gearhulk Masterpiece

The story so far…

Wait a second! Isn’t this supposed to be the uber beatdown format?

Hold on! You mean this isn’t the Standard where Dead Weight is better than Ruinous Path?

So like… Is Smuggler’s Copter not the best card, aggressive or no?

It turns out… Gifts Ungiven beat Umezawa’s Jitte (again).

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Smuggler’s Copter was good… But Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was great. One-upping (literally one-upping) Smuggler’s Copter in the Top 8, Gideon battled to the most populous position. In addition to supplementing the Copter beatdown decks (whether Boros or Mardu), Gideon contributed to Azorius and Jeskai midrange and / or control decks.

So… Gideon was great, but Torrential Gearhulk was best.


It turns out you can play any number of Torrential Gearhulk decks.

The finals included a Gearhulk mirror match between former World Champion Carlos Romao with Jeskai Control, and former Player of the Year Shota Yasooka with Grixis Control. Both control masters — Pro Tour Champions with B/U decks each — packed Torrential Gearhulk as the powerhouse finisher.

Carlos used a variety of spot removal and permission spells to fight aggressive opponents one-for-one early. These all made for solid Torrential Gearhulk targets.

Shota’s black splash allowed for two copies of Unlicensed Disintegration. In case you missed, Torrential Gearhulk is an artifact creature. Holy mondo combo Batman Shota! Along with the Gearhulk’s big body, Unlicensed Disintegration helped set up a monster race position.

Both decks packed Radiant Flames and light Energy sub-themes to really punish the predicted attack decks.

… And the finalists weren’t even the only Gearhulk decks in the Top 8!

Find out more about this still-evolving Standard format, and the trends in both the incumbent attack decks and the rising control decks in “Torrential Gearhulk Masterpieces”:

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Meet Blossoming Defense, Cross-Format All-Star

Blossoming Defense
Blossoming Defense – It isn’t just for Standard Smuggler’s Copter defense

Two sweet topics this week!

Topic Number One: Schools of Magic, 2016

Patreon supporter Sean O’Brien suggested we revisit the seminal Schools of Magic and talk about how some of Rob Hahn’s “Schools” figure into “modern” Magic: The Gathering.

I mean, everyone knows the Weissman School… But have you heard of Kim, Chang, or (topically here), O’Brien? Many of these Schools are alive and well twenty years after the publication of Schools of Magic, and their ideas of card advantage, blanking the opponent’s win conditions, or overloading a single type of resource remain key ideas still.

Thanks to Sean for such a great topic springboard (and, you know, his seminal contribution to Magic theory).

Further Reading: The Schools of Magic

Topic Number Two: (more) Kaladesh in Modern

I know, I know… We just did a “Kaladesh in Modern” episode two weeks ago… But that was before there were even any Modern tournaments with Kaladesh legal yet!

  • Per our predictions, Madcap Experiment into Platinum Emperion has already made Top 8 of an SCG Classic (albeit in the sideboard) of Wesley See’s U/R Storm deck.
  • Multiple Modern decks have already adopted Kaladesh “fast lands” … Both Grixis and Naya Boros Burn decks have improved their mana bases this way. Arya Roohi played only one Inspiring Vantage but Patrick thinks four might be the right number… And Mike not only likes four, but is seriously considering cutting green for it!
  • The most significant contribution to Modern (to date, at least) has got to be Blossoming Defense from Kaladesh. Basically all the U/G Infect decks are running some number of Blossoming Defense, but our hat tip has to go to Brad Carpenter, for winning it all! Great job Brad.

Check it all out as we “Meet Blossoming Defense, Cross-Format All-Star”

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Play Any Smuggler’s Copter Deck You Want

Smuggler's Copter
The first SCG Open with Kaladesh featured 32 copies of Smuggler’s Copter in its Top 8

Here’s the good news: You can play any Smuggler’s Copter deck you want.

After all, Smuggler’s Copter does so So SO much!

In a sense the existence of Smuggler’s Copter throws green and white under the bus. For all of two colorless mana you get the equivalent of a flying Watchwolf… That is also a Merfolk Looter.

Smuggler’s Copter is great with cards like Fiery Temper (which can get opposing Smuggler’s Copters out of the way), and it can smooth out your draws and help you hit your land drops.

Smuggler’s Copter is basically Umezawa’s Jitte. Actually… It may be even more ubiquitously playable than Jitte. After all, you didn’t generally see Jittes in Mono-Blue Control or most Gifts Ungiven decks. Smuggler’s Copter is already played in Grixis decks as well as Boros Aggro of at least three different flavors, plus a big, fat, G/W Ramp deck.

If you’re playing Delerium, Smuggler’s Copter can help you completed Delerium… Including by getting a land into your graveyard without dipping into Evolving Wilds.

This card is great in aggro decks… But it’s also great in color combinations like Grixis. Grixis might want the Copter just to help feed Prized Amalgam.

This card isn’t just good, it’s almost unbelievably flexible, and capable of contributing to a wide palette of different decks from Humans to Vehicles to a faux Reanimator.

… And it’s only Week One.

Listen to “Play Any Smuggl’er’s Copter Deck You Want” here:

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Madcap Experiment: Too Good in Modern?

Madcap Experiment
Madcap Experiment is “Treasure Cruise” good. -Patrick

Kaladesh looks like it’s going to be great for Modern. There will be fair, regular, good cards like Smuggler’s Copter and there will be new enablers like Cathartic Reunion. But nothing is exciting the boys at Top Level Podcast like Madcap Experiment.

Madcap Experiment is like a Tinker for one more mana… But that does not require you to sacrifice an artifact.

The problem, of course, is that when you turn over all of those cards… Ouch! You don’t want to turn over too many, or you’re going to get dead… Unless the artifact you reveal is Platinum Emperion.

When Platinum Emperion is on the battlefield, your life total can’t move… Including as a penalty by Madcap Experiment! This is a one-card combo that both protects your life total and gives you a powerful way to win the game. Consider…

  • This is “just” an 8/8 creature for four mana. Madcap Experiment into Platinum Emperion is the best Hunted Wumpus ever! Instead of a 6/6 creature with a drawback, it’s +2/+2 bigger and has a bonus!
  • Madcap Experiment only has a single R in the top-right corner. This card is not only eminently splashable but it is an easy sideboard transformation. You can devote as few as six slots (four copies of Madcap Experiment and two copies of Platinum Emperion) and end up with a very serviceable pivot.
  • It’s really tough to make progress against this combo. Dismember just doesn’t do enough. Decks like Affinity will have trouble in Game One.
  • This isn’t a “combo” that wins the game immediately, it is simple to assemble, super cheap, and gives you a lightning quick way to kill the opponent.

Too good?

While Madcap Experiment takes center stage in this podcast, Michael J. Flores and Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin go over 1:51 this week, hitting all manner of Modern cards (not the least of which is another infinite combo kill you can pull off on the third turn, plus an avenue to infinite mana!)

Find out more here:

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Toolcraft Exemplar is a Cross-Format All-Star

Toolcraft Exemplar
Kaladesh is going to make Magic fast again…
And Toolcraft Exemplar will be one of the best, and fastest (and not just in Standard).

Will Dead Weight be better than Ruinous Path?

If Patrick’s vision for the Kaladesh-upcoming Standard comes true, it will be!

Toolcraft Exemplar is an obvious addition to a potential White Weenie deck, for instance. If all you do is play Thraben Inspector Toolcraft Exemplar will be a one drop 3/2 on offense. Given the low threshold necessary to get the bonus, Toolcraft Exemplar might be better than Wild Nacatl! Wild Nacatl is a Pro Tour winner and currently tearing up Modern, remember.

Now adding Toolcraft Exemplar to White Weenie is obvious because of the Clue token synergy… But what about Smuggler’s Copter?

Smuggler's Copter
Smuggler’s Copter… Better than all?

Patrick has Smuggler’s Copter as his current top card for Kaladesh; it is an obvious addition to fast beatdown decks like White Weenie… And quite obviously gives you an artifact for your Toolcraft Exemplar.

The learning curve on some of the new Kaladesh cards will be steep!

Smuggler’s Copter is a fast, flying, threat… That is also a Merfolk Looter. This isn’t an ability to be dismissed given the prevalence of the Madness mechanic in the previous block.

But as for having more than one (sorry more than two) artifacts in play… the Exemplar will prove problematic. The first strike isn’t going to matter in a lot of games, until it does. This Dwarf Artificer is going to mess some folks up when they block lazily.

These are two great cards, that will serve great beatdowns (and soon).

More preliminary Kaladesh discussion here:

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Voltaic Brawler and Building Energy Aggro

Voltaic Brawler
Voltaic Brawler will be the centerpiece of a new G/R Energy Aggro deck.

Voltaic Brawler is an outstanding card. Even if Energy Aggro isn’t a thing — just a Gruul aggro deck of some sort — it will likely see play. There will likely be decks where Voltaic Brawler is the only Energy card.

Voltaic Brawler is great when it is working right, due to the nature of the Energy mechanic. For example, you can lead on a second turn Longtusk Cub follow up with Voltaic Brawler, and either put (or threaten to put) counters on the Longtusk Cub to force it through a 2/2 blocker. It can stack with other Energy cards like Lathnu Hellion, or even take advantage of turn one via Attune with Aether.

But that’s not all!

Voltaic Brawler has a sweet fail state (or two, depending on how you look at it)…
You can get in for four, get in for four again, and be left with a card that is on the order of Lambholt Pacifist (which just won both the Pro Tour and World Championship).

“It’s better than Putrid Leech.”

Patrick outlines how Harnessed Lightning will play like Valorous Stance, and Mike points out how seamlessly accurate it will be relative to historical burn cards.

Top Level Podcast also goes over Energy Ramp, B/G Energy Midrange, and intersections between the energy mechanic, and even Emrakul!

All this and more in this week’s podcast!

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Combustible Gearhulk is Our Exclusive Kaladesh Preview

Combustible Gearhulk
Combustible Gearhulk completes the Kaladesh Gearhulk Cycle

Okay, quick list:

  • Combustible Gearhlulk is a 6/6 creature for six mana… But has a “Browbeat” type ability attached
  • Will opponents consistently let you draw three cards? I mean if you can get that, you have accomplished much, because a 6/6 first striking Ancestral Recall for six mana is spectacular.
  • We think opponents might give you three cards more often than you might initially think. Many opponents will live in fear of the idea that there are three Combustible Gearhulks waiting on top of your library.

Context and Synergies:

  • If you can stack the top of your library, this card gets better and better; imagine a format where Congregation at Dawn is legal: You can put Combustible Gearhulk on top of your deck with, say, Emrakul and Ulamog… Congregation at Dawn itself becomes a conditional Draco-Explosion!
  • Combustible Gearhulk is best buddies with Saheeli Rai: Not only is Combustible Gearhulk a great card to nab with Saheeli’s Ultimate, a post-Gearhulk Saheeli makes for a great use of her middle ability.
  • When you’re not actively trying, Combustible Gearhulk is still pretty good; however, remember that even Ramp decks with high casting costs need both cheap Ramp cards and [zero mana] lands to get their big spells out. Will you do ten sometimes? Yes. And you’ll do less than that, often, too.
  • As long as we care about what the top of our libraries cost, Sorin, Grim Nemesis can provide a useful redundancy.

And for kicks, Patrick and Michael talk the other four Gearhulks (and more!) in “Combustible Gearhulk is Our Exclusive Kaladesh Preview”

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The Planeswalkers of Kaladesh

The new set Kaladesh is bringing in some awesome new Planeswalkers.

Isn’t that right Director of Magic R&D Aaron Forsythe?

Well… No.

Those were quite the Nissa and quite the Chandra we were looking for, Aaron. Luckily Kaladesh has got some other options.

Let’s check out the new Planeswalker Nissa, Vital Force:

Nissa, Vital Force

[+1]: Untap target land you control. Until your next turn, it becomes a 5/5 Elemental creature with haste. It’s still a land.

This first ability has amazing implications.

First of all, Nissa, Vital Force is more than 80% of a Reality Smasher. Five mana; five power of haste. Sign me up?

You aren’t forced to attack with the animated Elemental land, of course. You can leave up a 5/5 to block; or if you untap a red land, use it to remove one of the opponent’s threats. In either case, you can protect this Planeswalker.

Nissa, Vital Force’s [+1] is a useful ramp ability (she takes you from five to seven)… But really this is about going straight to six loyalty to get her emblem.

[-3]: Return target permanent card from your graveyard to your hand.

Niss’a [-3] is great; in fact, Patirck points out that there is some Den Protector going on here. But the [+1] straight to [-6] is such a powerful incentive, look for this ability to be used less commonly than it might have been in other contexts.

[-6]: You get an emblem with “Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may draw a card.”

This is a shockingly potent Ultimate given how easy it is to set up.

Consensus: This Planeswalker will be both a Staple and a Flagship.

Saheeli Rai

Saheeli has the worst fatal flaw of Planeswalkers (can’t defend herself), but as a three mana one, has something special going on.

Chandra, Torch of Defiance

The comparisons to Jace, the Mind Sculptor are probably by design.

With the least of her abilities, Chandra produces mana more efficiently than Hedron Archive.

More about all the Kaladesh Planesalkers in “The Planeswalkers of Kaladesh”:

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Is Wild Nacatl a Great Choice for Naya Burn?

Wild Nacatl
The jury is still out on Wild Nacatl in Modern Naya Burn… But for now it is the accepted take.

So… Is Wild Nacatl where Naya Burn players should be at for Modern?

Consider Brandon Burton’s GP-winning list from Grand Prix Indianapolis:

Naya Burn – 1st Place Grand Prix Indianapolis, by Brandon Burton

4 Eidolon of the Great Revel
4 Goblin Guide
1 Grim Lavamancer
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Wild Nacatl

4 Lava Spike
3 Rift Bolt
4 Lightning Bolt
4 Searing Blaze
4 Atarka’s Command
4 Boros Charm

3 Arid Mesa
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Copperline Gorge
2 Mountain
3 Sacred Foundry
2 Stomping Ground
4 Wooded Foothills

2 Deflecting Palm
3 Destructive Revelry
3 Kor Firewalker
1 Lightning Helix
4 Path to Exile
2 Skullcrack

Mana base aside, this deck is only four cards off of the PPTQ-winning deck Mike played just a few weekends ago. But the four cards different are the one mana kitty cats in question.

Patrick thinks the addition of Wild Nacatl — brining the creature count up to seventeen — might push Naya Burn from “The Lava Spike Deck” to “Red Aggro” … These are two different macro archetypes entirely from the perspective of Next Level Deck Building.

The difference in Modern is not trivial. When you are more purely a burn deck, mid-range opponents like Abzan and Jund are pretty easy to manage; but when you add Wild Nacatl, you can be fighting legit green creature decks on an axis where they are generally superior. On the other hand, Wild Nacatl — especially unopposed, especially on the first turn — “is like a Lava Spike every turn” (which is kinda sorta exactly what the deck wants to accomplish).

Not trivial.

Not trivial in the least.


The more interesting creature addition (from Mike’s perspective at least) is Kor Firewalker out of the sideboard. Mike calls this “bringing a gun to a knife fight” and believes that if Kor Firewalker becomes the accepted tech for Naya Burn, all Naya Burn players have to start respecting it or they will fall behind in mirror match sideboard games. Kor Firewalker itself is an interesting card to play, being WW in a deck with Copperline Gorge, basic Mountain, and only twenty lands. Still, quite a breaker if you expect Naya Burn and Suicide Zoo.

Speaking of Suicide Zoo…

Suicide Zoo – 3d place GP Guangzhou, by Lim Zhong Yi

4 Death’s Shadow
4 Monastery Swiftspear
4 Wild Nacatl
4 Street Wraith
2 Steppe Lynx
1 Tarmogoyf

4 Gitaxian Probe
3 Thoughtseize
4 Mutagenic Growth
4 Temur Battle Rage
3 Become Immense
2 Lightning Bolt
4 Mishra’s Bauble

4 Windswept Heath
4 Bloodstained Mire
2 Verdant Catacombs
1 Wooded Foothills
1 Arid Mesa
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
1 Blood Crypt
1 Sacred Foundry
1 Godless Shrine

1 Forest
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Traverse the Ulvenwald
2 Hooting Mandrills
2 Inquisition of Kozilek
1 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Stony Silence
1 Pyroclasm
2 Path to Exile
1 Ancient Grudge
1 Dismember

Patrick makes an interesting observation about this deck. It has relatively few cards “you would actually spend mana on” and an effective average casting cost of below 1.

Yi’s version, with Traverse the Ulvenwald in the sideboard, can do some interesting things… Like find that basic Forest, or double up the ability to hit Ranger of Eos (without having to play a second copy of Ranger of Eos). Patrick and Mike both think Ranger of Eos is a perpetually underplayed card; in this deck it can get a hasty Monastery Swiftspear, or multiple Death’s Shadows. If all it does is find two copies of Wild Nacatl, Ranger of Eos is already a more mana efficient Broodmate Dragon (nine power over six mana instead of eight power over six mana, and starting up two turns faster).

Jund — one of the most popular Modern archetypes — had many different takes over three gigantic Grand Prix last weekend. One of the most interesting ones was in the hands of Hall of Famer Raph Levy:

Jund – Top 64 Grand Prix Lille, by Raphael Levy

4 Liliana of the Veil

4 Dark Confidant
1 Grim Lavamancer
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Pia and Kiran Nalaar
4 Tarmogoyf

1 Dreadbore
4 Inquisition of Kozilek
2 Thoughtseize
4 Lightning Bolt
1 Slaughter Pact
4 Terminate
4 Blood Moon

4 Blackcleave Cliffs
1 Blood Crypt
3 Bloodstained Mire
1 Forest
1 Mountain
1 Overgrown Tomb
1 Stomping Ground
4 Swamp
4 Verdant Catacombs
4 Wooded Foothills

1 Thoughtseize
1 Engineered Explosives
2 Grafdigger’s Cage
1 Nihil Spellbomb
1 Spellskite
1 Thragtusk
1 Vampire Nighthawk
1 Damnation
1 Ancient Grudge
2 Collective Brutality
2 Shatterstorm
1 Rakdos Charm

Blood Moon?

Is that four copies of Blood Moon? And main deck?

“Why should anyone be allowed to do anything?” Sure, sometimes Blood Moon messes up Jund; but there are spots where it will mess the opponent up even worse.

“Is Wild Nacatl a Great Choice for Naya Burn?” covers much, much more than a couple of green Modern decks, from the control side of Grixis and the various brands of Azorius; all the way to the mindset of a Hate Bears player. What is the Hate Bears Plan A, anyway?

All your questions will be answered in “Is Wild Nacatl a Great Choice for Naya Burn?”

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Crush of Tentacles – Beyond the Top 8

Two different Crush of Tentacles decks were top performers at the New Jersey Invitational (though neither made Top 8, due to Modern)

“Send to Sleep”
-Patrick Chapin

Patrick is half-referencing one of the cards in one of the two 7-1 (or better) U/G Crush of Tentacles decks from last weekend’s Star City Invitational in New Jersey… But he’s also kinda sorta playing on words.

Is Standard super boring right now?

Mike moves to convince his podcast partner that Standard is in fact super open, interesting, and ripe for optimization. Here are some decks that might get your creative juices going…

U/G Crush by William Moore

4 Den Protector
4 Elvish Visionary

4 Anticipate
2 Summary Dismissal
4 Pieces of the Puzzle
4 Crush of Tentacles
4 Part the Waterveil
4 Explosive Vegetation
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
2 Nissa’s Renewal

3 Blighted Woodland
4 Lumbering Falls
9 Forest
8 Island

4 Jaddi Offshoot
4 Revealing Wind
3 Dispel
4 Negate

U/G Crush by Zac Elsik

4 Den Protector
4 Elvish Visionary
2 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
1 Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger

3 Anticipate
4 Crush of Tentacles
2 Oath of Nissa
1 Nissa’s Renewal
3 Part the Waterveil
3 Send to Sleep
4 Nissa’s Pilgrimage
1 Sight Beyond Sight
4 Explosive Vegetation

1 Blighted Woodland
8 Island
9 Forest
4 Lumbering Falls
1 Skyline Cascade
1 Yavimaya Coast

1 Summary Dismissal
3 Noose Constrictor
2 Clip Wings
1 Void Shatter
4 Jaddi Offshoot
1 Orbs of Warding
1 Display of Dominance
2 Dispel

Esper Control by Shaheen Soorani

4 Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy
1 Emrakul, the Promised End

1 Liliana, the Last Hope
2 Narset Transcendent
1 Ob Nixilis Reignited
2 Sorin, Grim Nemesis

1 Anguished Unmaking
1 Coax from the Blind Eternities
4 Oath of Jace
1 Ruinous Path
3 Transgress the Mind
2 Dark Petition
4 Languish
1 Silumgar’s Command
1 Ultimate Price
4 Grasp of Darkness
1 Descend upon the Sinful

4 Choked Estuary
2 Evolving Wilds
1 Plains
4 Prairie Stream
4 Shambling Vent
4 Sunken Hollow
5 Swamp
2 Island

1 Liliana, the Last Hope
1 Emrakul, the Promised End
1 Summary Dismissal
2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
1 Fathom Feeder
1 Ruinous Path
2 Infinite Obliteration
1 Dragonlord Silumgar
1 Murder
2 Negate
2 Duress

Shaheen Soorani — sometimes touted as the most successful Invitational player in Star City history — might not have made Top 8, but he did go undefeated in Standard. Unsurprisingly, Shaheen’s “Esper” solution is actually two decks mashed up with two different decks (i.e. right in Mike’s wheelhouse). It’s also basically a B/W board control deck — an established quantity in Standard — splashing for Jace, Oath of Jace, and… Coax the Blind Eternities?!?

Find out why Coax the Blind Eternities is more than just a three mana tax in Shaheen’s deck (despite there being all of one Eldrazi card in his sideboard) in “Crush of Tentacles – Beyond the Top 8”:

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