The Return of Mono-Black Devotion

Gray Merchant of Asphodel creates a huge incentive to play Mono-Black Devotion

Starting with Mono-Black Devotion

There are a ton of great new decks (and new looks at old decks) thanks to Theros Beyond Death entering Standard…

But both Patrick and Michael think Mono-Black Devotion will be one of the most important breakout strategies.

Haven’t we seen this deck before? In the pretty recent past? Why Mono-Black Devotion now? Simple: Lots of the new additions actually reference the mechanic! Examples include:

  • The aforementioned Gray Merchant of Asphodel,
  • Drag to the Underworld, and
  • Tymaret, Chosen from Death

But despite missing some key words on its cardboard, Michael thinks that a different card is the one that makes this deck…

Nightmare Shepherd in Mono-Black Devotion

Nightmare Shepherd

This new Demon is one of the cards that really makes this deck hum. If you play a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with it on the battlefield, you can enjoy the intense combination of black mana symbols… But that’s not all. Sacrificing the five mana Zombie to a card like Woe Strider can set up another trigger.

Thanks to Nightmare Shepherd, it will be child’s play to take an opponent from half their life total to zilch in a single turn.

You can also exploit timing tricks, like sacrificing a Yarok’s Fenlurker or Burglar Rat during the opponent’s draw to keep them locked at no cards in hand (a pretty rare opportunity for instant speed discard).

Tons and tons of focus on Mono-Black Devotion this week… But that’s not all!

The Best of the Rest…

  • Where do Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven fit into this metagame?
  • How about Rakdos instead of Mono-Black? Do you get more from the second color… Or more from the literal Devotion to Black?
  • All the different ways folks have tried The Akroan War so far. What’s more exciting? Pairing it with Witch’s Oven… Or stealing creatures permanently with Thassa, Deep Dwelling?
  • “Time Wipe my Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths” … Also at instant speed
  • Which deck does Mike call “the king of mid-range”?
  • What seeming non-bo does Patrick point out is actually a combo?
  • WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Listen now!

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The Masterful Design of Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is a wonderfully designed Magic: The Gathering card

Dream Trawler… Is Mike’s favorite card from Theros Beyond Death

Now that the whole set has been revealed, Mike has a slam dunk favorite card… And it’s this big sphinx!

  • Flying, Lifelink
  • Discard a card: Dream Trawler gains hexproof until end of turn. Tap it.

A large flyer with five toughness and lifelink is reminiscent of Baneslayer Angel. This card actually costs a little more (6 instead of 5 mana). But this one offers a little something extra: It doesn’t die to Doom Blade.

“Protect the Queen”

One of the most celebrated blue strategies of all time is “protect the queen”. Rather than using your permission to stop threats like a Draw-Go deck; or to force through your combo like Trix or High Tide… Protect the Queen seeks to use permission to defend a key creature.

Usually the creature — often a large flyer — will win the game in just a few swings. You don’t need enough permission to stop everything… Just enough to keep the creature alive for as long as it takes to win. Finite and finite.

There are two advantages for protecting this sphinx.

First, you can use any card to give Dream Trawler hexproof. You don’t need to draw into particular permission.

Secondly, and subtly, you can consistently attack. Because of its draw-aligned ability (and lifelink) Dream Trawler is better on offense than defense. The trick is, if the opponent lets you attack, your Dream Trawler will already be tapped. If they use removal mid-combat, you can discard without losing the damage.

Everything to Every One

Dream Trawler has a little something from all the great and iconic control finishers from over the years. Like evrything from Serra Angel on down, it’s a large flyer… Six mana instead of five, maybe, but similar.

While it doesn’t have vigilance, Dream Trawler’s lifelink allows it to play offense and defense simultaneously. Its hexproof makes protecting it easier.

But how about those other two lines?

  • Whenever you draw a card, Dream Trawler gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
  • Whenever Dream Trawler attacks, draw a card.

It’s got some power-buffing like Psychatog.

It draws cards when attacking like Ophidian.

But even more than its nostalgia; even more than its improvement on just dying to Doom Blade; Dream Trawler is an elegantly designed card. Come listen to Patrick’s breakdown on how this creature is a masterwork:

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There’s Lots to Love with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Meet Thassa, Deep-Dwelling from Theros Beyond Death:

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Let’s break down Thassa’s abilities…

Indestructible is great! Especially if you turn Thassa “on” with devotion to blue of five or greater, a 6/5 indestructible for four mana deserves a second look.

“3U: Tap another target creature” though…

Probably too much mana.

If you’re in for Thassa, you’re probably in for that exile ability.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling as a “personal Howling Mine”

One of the most obvious ways to play Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is with a lot of 187 creatures. If you play any creatures with abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield, Thassa represents an easy way to build card advantage over time.

It does what it does without any incremental mana requirements every turn.

If you just choose and play creatures that generate card advantage, this God will help you generate lots of card advantage! What about…

Thassa’s Oracle from Theros Beyond Death

Thassa’s Oracle is a perfect MichaelJ card! Highly reminiscent of his beloved Omenspeaker, Thassa’s Oracle is even more on-brand with Thassa’s devotion to blue theme. It’s a card that can help you to set up your early game and blocks effectively for its casting cost. And, of course… Sometimes it just wins the game!

Arcanist’s Owl from Throne of Eldraine

How about this Bird?

Arcanist’s Owl is a good “engine” card. Meaning, once it’s already on the battlefield, Thassa can profitably exile it for more and more card advantage. Not for nothing, but the Owl also increases your devotion to blue by four (despite being an artifact). Interestingly, because it is an artifact, it can be a good target for other deck manipulation. For example, Emry, Lurker of the Loch is an early game creature you might want to play. Emry is another nice setup spell, and a worthy exile target itself.

Both these cards make nice friends with Meteor Golem!

Meteor Golem

It’s not going to be easy to lose once you start “Blinking” Meteor Golems every turn.

Best of the Rest

  • Which Elder Giant is best… And why?
  • How do you counter the un-counter-able?
  • Rating Interventions
  • All the ways you might want to UNLEASH THE KRAKEN

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All the Ways to Play (and break!) Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned

Heliod, Sun-Crowned + Walking Ballista deals infinite damage (and gains infinite life!)

As if we didn’t get enough out of Walking Ballista…

This combination is great because it can be played in not only Modern (and larger formats) but Pioneer!

The simple procedure:

  • Play out Heliod, Sun-Crowned on three mana
  • Play Walking Ballista for four mana (possibly the next turn) for a “2/2” Walking Ballista (two +1/+1 counters)
  • On turn five you can use Heliod’s ability to give Walking Ballista lifelink, then remove a counter from the Ballista to get the party started! Remove a +1/+1 counter to deal a point of damage; lifelink means you’ll gain a point of life… Meaning you can put another +1/+1 counter on the Ballista.

This is awesome, of course; but you’ll have to be a little careful. For example you can’t go three-into-four cleanly. A 1/1 Walking Ballista will die before it can get the next counter.

That said, there are ways to be faster otherwise; for example…

Mortal’s Ardor

Mortal’s Ardor saves you a ton of mana. For instance you can play Heliod on turn three and then a 1/1 Walking Ballista on turn four. Follow up with a Mortal’s Ardor for only one more mana and you will also make the Ballista a 2/2.

With this three-card combination you don’t have to use 1W and Heliod to turn on the Ballista. Mortal’s Ardor fulfills both size and lifelink requirements… Heliod’s job in this case is “just” to pay off infinite +1/+1 counters.

“Holy Tooth and Nail, Batman!”

-Mike

If You’re Interested in Another Color… Can we Interest You in Green?

Collected Company is a potential option because Heliod, Sun-Crowned is a creature card whether it’s a creature on the battlefield.

From the perspective of Collective Company, Heliod is priced to move. Walking Ballista, however, is not. But…

Spike Feeder

At least in Modern, Collected Company into Heliod and Spike Feeder doesn’t even require any more mana. Just remove a +1/+1 counter from Spike Feeder to gain two life, and Heliod will pay it back. You don’t kill the opponent outright, but gaining infinite life will usually win the game.

Builds including these cards can also exploit cards like Archangel of Thune for redundancy.

“Soul Sisters” Can Break Heliod, Sun-Crowned in a Variety of Formats

There are no shortage of Soul Warden effects.

In Theros Beyond Death alone, we’ve got…

Daxos, Blessed by the Sun

If you’re on the Mono-White Beatdown train, you can just play Daxos and Walking Ballista in the same turn (which will trigger Daxos, and therefore Heliod, and therefore grow Walking Ballista) to again save mana.

The advantages of this build are many. Daxos and Heliod are highly synergistic coming from the whole “Devotion to White” angle. You probably have great fundamental expectation against decks like Mono-Red or Boros Burn. And a legitimate Plan B attack strategy.

While it lacks the infinite damage (and infinite life gain) of the Walking Ballista builds in Pioneer or Modern, a Standard deck can play these two cards together… With a great likelihood of actually turning Heliod into a monstrous 5/5 for three.

And lots, lots more…

Example:

What’s better, Birth of Meletis or Wall of Omens?

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How to Think About Klothys, God of Destiny

Klothys, God of Destiny
Klothys, God of Destiny is a little tricky

Is Klothys, God of Destiny Great at Attacking Graveyards?

… Kind of.

Mike starts his analysis this week talking about how this card might interact with the newly-revealed Elspeth; and the Escape mechanic in general.

Klothys, God of Destiny can only go after one card at a time, and the timing has to be right. This is not a “Tormod’s Crypt” sort of card, especially in larger formats.

That doesn’t mean it isn’t incredible.

“Put me down for five stars.”

-Patrick

Compare Klothys to Sulfuric Vortex…

Sulfuric Vortex sees regular play in Legacy.

Like Klothys, God of Destiny, Sulfuric Vortex costs three mana. But unlike Klothys, it can be destroyed. Moreover, both players take damage! Instead, here, the opponent loses two life while you gain two life!

Setting aside the life gain implications, that Drain Life-like ability — turn after turn — is an incredible deal for three mana. The trick to this card is that the “graveyard hate” aspect is not central to its general game play.

Setting Up Klothys, God of Destiny

Okay genius!

Doesn’t Klothys ask us to do something to get it online? Sulfuric Vortex can just sit in play, but Klothys actually has to gobble on non-land cards in some graveyard or other to get going.

What about just playing Magic?

Just play out your stuff. Play out a creature. The opponent will either kill it or your creature will get going. What about combat? Creatures killing one another put cards into one or both graveyards.

Or you can fuel it yourself! A Lava Spike deck might love this card. They burn the opponent and create fuel for Klothys.

Yet…

Klothys, God of Destiny is also great against Lava Spike decks! It is a persistent source of life gain. This is especially relevant where the opponent is putting cards into their own graveyard for Klothys to eat.

Corollary: Red Decks will be incentivized to play Grim Lavamancer more than ever (to exile cards from their own graveyards in response to Klothys doing it for you).

Oh, and sometimes Klothys, God of Destiny is a 4/5 indestructible creature

Seven devotion is a steep price, but you’ll get it online… sometimes.

Don’t look for Klothys to need to be a huge combat creature to contribute, though.

Plus! Grey Merchant of Asphodel and a handful of red and green fatties from Theros Beyond Death. Check it all out:

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First Look at Theros Beyond Death

Theros Beyond Death previews are already upon us!

Here come our thoughts about some of the most exciting spoilers to hit the Internet this week…

About that [-3] on Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis…

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis is all about Escape

Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis is a curious Planeswalker. A Planeswalker with only “minus” abilities is not something we’re used to seeing… And Elspeth has three of them!

Patrick points out that — including the Escape — Elspeth, Sun’s Nemesis actually has four abilities. This is where the [-3] comes in.

The [-3] allows you to put Elspeth into your graveyard any time you used the [-2] the previous turn. It’s not that gaining five life is so exciting… It’s that gaining five life without using any mana might be. This will bury Elspeth, allowing you to Escape her for 4WW. Depending on the disposition of your graveyard, you will be able to loop Elspeth casts over and over to produce tons of 1/1 tokens and grind down the opponent’s interaction.

Ahiok, Nightmare Muse is…

Can Ashiok compete at the five?

Ashiok, Nightmare Muse has some stiff competition. At a minimum, the five casting cost Planeswalker division includes Nicol Bolas, Dragon-God!

But that doesn’t invalidate Ashiok, Nightmare Muse entirely.

  • For one thing 2/3 Nightmare creature tokens are an interesting asset in a world where other people are trafficking in 2/2 creatures.
  • Ashiok can answer “anything” with his [-3] minus

“Probably better than Deathbellow War Cry.”

-Patrick

When do you want Athreos, Shroud-Veiled from Theros Beyond Death?

Athreos, Shroud-Veiled

Hot take: Athreos is pretty expensive relative to its impact on the board at the point it resolves. While indestructible, Athreos might not be able to block!

However!

In a grindy matchup, Athreos might be completely unbeatable. If you give this card enough time (in a matchup where creatures, combat, and removal matter)… It’s going to be tough to beat.

Check out our First Look at Theros Beyond Death now!

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“Quasiduplicate my Risen Reef” and other key plays from Mythic Championship VII

Mythic Championship VII is in the books!

And, despite some missing aggro decks, the tournament did not disappoint in terms of cool decks and the best players winning.

Here are some of the best ones:

Simic Flash was the Deck of the Tournament

Three superstar players of the Pro Tour… Onetime Player of the Year Brad Nelson, former World Champion Seth Manfield, and the hottest player in the world Javier Dominguez all made Top 8 with their Simic Ramp Flash deck.

This build of Simic Flash incorporates some elements of Ramp decks. So while it has some of the Brazen Borrower / Nightpack Ambusher action we’re used to from Simic Flash decks… It is also a Paradise Druid-driven main phase deck.

The big payoffs to this wonderful new take are Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis like so many of the successful decks of the previous format. 

One of the best features of Simic Flash? An utterly dominating matchup against the popular Jeskai Fires of Invention strategy.

Simic Ramp, or… What was That About Quasiduplicate Again?

Quasiduplicate

Andrea Megucci played a novel new Simic Ramp deck that kind of went the other direction from the successful Simic Flash players.

Mengucci had the Nissa / Krasis action (of course)… But pushed the engine to an unbelievable degree.

He went with Leafkin Druid over Paradise Druid… Because it’s an Elemental. Do you know what else is an Elemental? Risen Reef. And Cavalier of Thorns, fo course.

When you Quasiduplicate a Risen Reef, you get a second copy of Risen Reef. Both –that is, both cards — trigger! You get the trigger from the old Risen Reef because the incoming token is an Elemental; and you get the trigger from the new one because it’s a Risen Reef.

Then when you Jump-Start Quasiduplicate, you now get three triggers!

Cool, huh?

Yes, Mengucci made the biggest Hydroids.

How about the Champ? Jund Sacrifice…

Patrick is a huge fan of Piotr GÅ‚ogowski’s build of Jund Sacrifice. Not only did this strategy eliminate all three superstars with their Simic Flash decks in the Top 8, Glogowski took a subtle and effective route to replacing Once Upon a Time.

Beanstalk Giant

Beanstalk Giant does everything in this deck! It gets you to Casualties of War a turn more quickly in the mirror (spoiler! The Champ played all four copies of Casualties of War)… It finds your solo Mountain for the red splash, and it can win the game with its seven drop mode a few turns later.

Plus some hot tech that didn’t make the Mythic Championship at all, like…

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
The Solution to Simic?
Vivien’s Arkbow

Not sure what deck would want to sleeve up an Arkbow? You can find out right here:

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Three More Cards Join the Pioneer Ban List

If someone asked you to pick three cards to ban in Pioneer this week, would you have picked the right ones?

Mike says he could have picked Smuggler’s Copter and Once Upon a Time.

Patrick is sure he would have picked Field of the Dead.

So what do we think about the bans… And more importantly what’s next for Pioneer?

At Least Smuggler’s Copter was Fun

Smuggler's Copter
Smuggler’s Copter used to be the best card in Pioneer

Was Smuggler’s Copter the best card in Pioneer? Strong, very strong, maybe.

But there has to be a best card, right?

Patrick empathizes with the choice because the Mono-Black deck was too good. Smuggler’s Copter was so good it made Night Market Lookout playable!

The problem is that — at least around the Mono-Black deck — Smuggler’s Copter will be replaced with Pack Rat. Or…

Guess which card is really fun, and guess which card is really not fun?

Simic StOmPy Might Have Been Too Repetitive

With Llanowar Elves, Elvish Mystic, and Gilded Goose all at the one, Simic StOmPy could play a hyper-reliable first couple of turns.

If it wasn’t Steel Leaf Champion it was Lovestruck Beast. If it wasn’t a five power beater on the second turn, it was Oko, Thief of Crowns.

This deck — which won last weekend’s Pioneer PTQ on MTGO — was arguably the most beat up archetype by this week’s bans. Not only did it lose the Copter… It lost Once Upon a Time!

Speaking of which… 10 one mana accelerators, 12 or more insane three mana plays, and Once Upon a Time? Yeah… Probably a bit too repetitive.

Is the Big Winner Mutavault?

Mutavault was already a good card in the best deck (Mono-Black).

With a projected move from Smuggler’s Copter to Pack Rat… What does that say about Mutavault?

Hint: It’s also a Rat.

But on top of that? Field of the Dead being banned in Pioneer is also great for Mutavault.

Because: There will be far fewer 2/2 Zombie tokens holding off Mutavaults!

Or What About Castle Garenbrig?

This card is going to have some good setup from Hour of Promise.

Hour of Promise will, in turn, get lift from Nissa’s Pilgrimage and especially — new tech alert — Natural Connection.

What does one do with a “free” six-on-five (or even six-on-four)? I’m thinking… More Ramp?

Oblivion Sower
The Sower is on-brand for Ramp, both ways

… And loads more!

Three more cards join the Pioneer ban list. Long live Pioneer!

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Casualties of War is Where You Want to Be

Casualties of War can destroy an enchantment… Or pretty much anything else

Jeskai Fires Does Away with the “Fancy”

Now that Oko, Thief of Crowns has been banned in Standard, Jeskai decks with Fires of Invention have positioned themselves among the top strategies. These decks have been present since Throne of Eldraine debuted… But were overshadowed by Simic and Sultai Oko decks.

The new-ish technology for Jeskai Fires?

Sphinx of Foresight.

This strategy is simply no longer interested in “fancy” Silver Bullet Magic around Fae of Wishes. It’s all about using Sphinx of Foresight for greater consistency + maximizing the likelihood of getting Fires of Invention on the battlefield as quickly as possible (ideally turn four).

This deck is like two different decks: It’s optimized to drop Melokus and Keigas assuming Fires of Invention is on the battlefield… But it’s a clunky control deck without Fires.

Conventiently for Fires players, “enchantment” is a tricky permanent to remove once on the battlefield. Which brings us to…

Casualties of War Might be the Best Top End in Cat Food Decks

Cat Food seems to have survived as a possible archetype choice. Oko was a great source of Food… But it turns out that Witch’s Oven has a lot of things it can do still.

Cauldron Familiar and Gilded Goose still open up the Cat Food decks, but they are divided as to what they should be doing deeper in a game… Everything from Garruk, Cursed Huntsman to Liliana, Dreadhorde General.

… But can we recommend 4x Casualties of War?

First off, Casualties of War is simply the most devastating card for the mirror. Artifact. Creature. Enchantment. Land. Planeswalker.

Most Cat Food decks play all those kinds of permanents. Witch’s Oven is a great artifact to blow up… But if you have to settle for a Food token, that might not be that bad… At least as long as you can nab some of the other stuff.

There are no shortage of creatures. Massacre Girl cost the opponent five mana, and some maniacs are even summoning Feasting Troll King! Trail of Crumbs is an ideal enchantment to destroy; but like we intimated before, Fires of Invention (not in the mirror, presumably) has a singular position in this format, and Casualties of War can help you destroy that with value.

Everyone’s got lands. Lots of folks have Planeswalkers. Punish them, any and all!

Also in this Podcast: Why You Should Play 4x Gadwick, the Wizened

… And in a variety of color combinations!

Find out why now:

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Oko, Thief of Crowns is Finally Banned in Standard

Oko, Thief of Crowns was banned in Standard (and Brawl!) this week

We all knew Oko, Thief of Crowns had to Go

Standard was not, in many players’ estimations, in a healthy place.

Oko — along with some of his buddies, many of which are still legal — ushered in an era of unprecedented dominance. Six of the eight decks playing the single elimination rounds at Mythic Championship VI were Oko decks; and all eight were on Once Upon a Time.

There were alternatives to banning the best Planeswalker in recent memory, though. Unfortunately, any effort to keep Oko alive would have necessitated banning an enormous swath of [probably] innocent bystanders.

“A lot of innocent Planeswalkers and Geese would have to be sacrificed,” says Mike.

Here he’s talking about Gilded Goose and Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Nissa’s main offense is just being green. Arguably not even in the best [pre-bans] deck.

Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer ate the Ban Hammer too

Once Upon a Time…
This card was legal in Standard

Veil of Summer was even more ubiquitous than Oko! Almost all the Oko decks played it (or even played four), and non-Oko decks also did. For example, Gruul beatdown or Gruul Adventures decks.

Where to go next? one of the big jokes is that losing four copies of Once Upon a Time means that you might have to add as many as four lands to your deck!

You’ll just have to listen to this week’s podcast to find out!

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