If They Tap Out for Drake Haven… Kill ’em!

Drake Haven
Drake Haven will be a defining card from Amonkhet

Drake Haven might be Mike’s favorite card from Amonkhet…

.. Whatever that means.

Sure, it’s Lightning Rift-like (or Astral Slide-like, if you prefer). It screams to collaborate with tons and tons of cyclers printed in the vary same set. Untap with Drake Haven in play, and you have a ready-made source of defense, card advantage, and damage all at once. Mike thinks that Drake Haven could be a centerpiece of the new Standard… After all, it can counter and overwhelm Gideon, is highly synergistic with your own sweepers, and can chase down many Planeswalkers in the air, (at least when you have a turn).

But almost by definition, many playing this card will give you a window to attack.

Turn Three Kills

Flameblade Adept + Noose Constrictor + Shadow of the Grave

There are multiple variations on this kill, and some variability based on play or draw. The simple scenario works like this:

  1. Game TrailĀ + Flameblade Adept
  2. Attack for 1 (19), Swamp + Noose Constrictor
  3. On your draw you have five cards in hand [on the play]. If you discard all of them but one, Noose Constrictor becomes six power, and your Flameblade Adept goes to five power; now use your last card (Shadow of the Grave) to re-buy the four cards you discarded. Discard them again and Noose Contrictor becomes 10 and Flameblade Adept goes to nine. Good thing you pinged for one last turn!

Build Your Own Baneslayer Angel

While maybe not the best against Drake Haven decks directly, White Weenie decks seems to be getting a boost from Amonkhet. Always Watching was always a powerful card to play with the little white men, but combined with the new exert mechanic? Nothing but undercosted, potentially advantageous, attackers!

Glory-Bound Initiate is a perfect option. It comes down on turn two (a turn before Always Watching) and can help you build your own Baneslayer Angel.

Glory-Bound Initiate
Glory-Bound Initiate can become 4/4 on its own, but may have to slow down. Enter Always Watching
Dozens of cards are explored in this podcast. Mike and Patrick can’t wait to play Amonkhet!

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Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10

Nissa, Steward of Elements
Nissa, Steward of Elements breaks — or at least bends — many rules

What an interesting Planeswalker!

What a glorious set of abilities!

A perceptive mage might even point out that Nissa’s casting cost is itself kind of a special ability… It is after all something special, something we haven’t seen before, at XGU.

For one thing, you can cast Nissa, Steward of Elements for a mere GU. This is not a typical play, though, as Nissa will go directly into the graveyard if you do so… But maybe that’s okay. Maybe you’re on the Delirium track and you are okay spending two mana to put the Planeswalker type into your graveyard. Or maybe you’ve previously cast an Oath of Gideon or Oath of Ajani, letting you get away with that cheat.

But even at 1GU Nissa is part of the rare breed of “three” mana Planeswalkers. The original Jace Beleren, as well as a number of Lilianas, have proven tournament Staples due to being only three mana. Nissa can come down for 1GU and immediately tick up with the [+2] to “start” at three loyalty (while giving you a nice look at the top of your library).

[+2] : Scry 2.

Nissa’s “plus” ability is perfectly serviceable. It’s not the most exciting plus ability, but it does a couple of things well in her context. As we’ve already said, starting the three mana version of Nissa at three loyalty is potentially solid. Especially early, the ability to add two loyalty to Nissa can act as a proxy for defending herself.

Separately, Scry 2 is extremely synergistic with Nissa’s second ability. Because it goes two deep you can know what you will hit, even after your next draw step, meaning you can theoretically ensure a 100% hit rate.

[0] : Look at the top card of your library. If it’s a land card or a creature card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of loyalty counters on Nissa, Steward of Elements, you may put that card onto the battlefield.

Nissa’s second ability is erratic, but potentially powerful. If you use the Scry 2 ability, you can ensure a hit… But you don’t 100% need to. If Nissa is already at very high loyalty you might be able to hit even a big fatty like Ulamog or Torrential Gearhulk. Your worst case is of course using Nissa blind and missing, but on the low(ish) end you can also just use this as a mana ramp ability.

It is not out of the question to use Nissa, immediately [0], hit a land, and have five or even six mana available the next turn. A more consistent play pattern might be to reveal two lands with [+2], draw one of the lands, and [0] the other into play. Three straight to five!

Nissa is probably going to draw fire for “not protecting herself” but that isn’t 100% the case. The [+2] gives Nissa a bit of resiliency, but the ability to even sometimes land a creature to block is also a measure of defense (though, again, not super consistent).

[-6] : Untap up to two target lands you control. They become 5/5 Elemental creatures with flying and haste until end of turn. They’re still lands.

This ability is what sets Nissa, Steward of Elements apart.

Who cares if she doesn’t defend herself if your intention is not to keep Nissa, Steward of Elements around? For the bargain price of eight mana (6GU) you can just Fireball your opponent for ten! Take ten in the air! Blammo!

The “take ten” [-6] is not the most flashy or powerful Ultimate in the history of Planeswalkers, but its speed is like nothing we have ever seen before. A Ramp deck can land this ability out of nowhere. We can even imagine consecutive turns of ten plus ten, winning with no non-Nissa-Ultimate damage.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin blows it all away with an additional observation:

“What if you just play her for nine?”

Nissa and Liliana are joined by Sphinxes, Beasts, and 2/2 flying tokens in “Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10”

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Amonkhet Brings NEW PERSPECTIVES

New Perspectives
New Perspectives, from Amhonkhet
MichaelJ and Patrick return for a special bonus episode! Top Level Podcast has an exclusive preview from Amonkhet.

When New Perspectives enters the battlefield, draw three cards.

New Perspectives starts more-or-less the best way a card can: By helping you draw three cards! In.

(Or, at least, we are interested in further exploration.)

Six mana is a bit steep for the ability to draw three cards, but Patrick claims that this card is actually a “draw four” … One of the cards is just a zero mana Fluctuator.

Because New Perspectives is a permanent rather than a sorcery (compare to Tidings), you can pick it up or blink it (perhaps with Felidar Guardian) to draw more and more.

As long as you have seven or more cards in hand, you may pay 0 rather than pay cycling costs.

This second line is what puts the “new” in the name. We aren’t just talking about a Fluctuator… This card is expensive but far more powerful.

For one, New Perspectives will handle colored mana in a cycling cost, not just discount a 2 to 0. It opens the door to some big opportunities. For instance, why not start with Archfiend of Ifnir on five, untap with the Demon still in play, and then run out New Perspectives? Having (or drawing into) just one or two cycling cards — TAPPED OUT — can totally swing the board.

This card represents — we think — a whole new way to play.

Check it out:

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Gideon of the Trials and More Amonkhet

Gideon of the Trials
Gideon of the Trials from Amonkhet
Gideon of the Trials is a splashy new Planeswalker from Amonkhet. There are lots of things going on with this card that are interesting.

First of all, it is only three mana. Like Jace Beleren and Liliana of the Last Hope before it, Gideon is likely going to find a way into appropriately-colored decks, just because it is so cheap. Conveniently, all three of Gideon’s abilities are meaningful and worthy of discussion.

[+1]: Until your next turn, prevent all damage target permanent would deal.

This is Mike’s favorite ability on the card.

Gideon of the Trials can completely shut off threat-poor decks; it is in fact outstanding against one threat at a time.

In addition, the [+1] is, in a roundabout way, a source of card advantage. You can force the opponent to play multiple threats by neutralizing the first one. He can be stuck losing an extra card to Fumigate, only to be stuck again a threat-and-a-half later.

This ability is also great against Heart of Kiran. Not only can you shut it off damage-wise (no matter what mode it is in), the fact that Heart of Kiran is Legendary means that you effectively shut off all the copies that are stuck in the opponent’s hand.

[0]: Until end of turn, Gideon of the Trials becomes a 4/4 Human Soldier creature with indestructible that’s still a planeswalker. Prevent all damage that would be dealt to him this turn.

If Gideon of the Trials only featured the middle ability, it would be comparable to True-Name Nemesis… a 4/4 “basically unstoppable” 4/4 for only three mana (but doesn’t play defense)? Pretty solid!

This is the most straightforward of Gideon’s three abilities. It’s basically always good any time you don’t want to be using the [+1].

[0]: You get an emblem with “As long as you control a Gideon planeswalker, you can’t lose the game and your opponents can’t win the game.”

Gideon’s emblem is a little tricky. It basically is an emblem that makes present or future Gideons into Platinum Angels. This can be powerful — For example you can lock out (or at least buy a turn from) certain combo decks. But most conventional decks that attack to beat you can attack Gideon instead. Not awful by any means, but not decisive generally, at least not in Standard.

All-in-all, Gideon of the Trials looks like the most powerful white card we’ve seen so far from Amonkhet.

There are lots of other cards discussed, as well, in this week’s episode! Give it a listen:

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Oh… And bonus episode tomorrow!

Glorybringer, the Gideon-Killer

Glorybringer
Glorybringer, from Amonkhet

Glorybringer, by the Numbers

The superficial analysis is this: Glorybringer is a five mana 4/4 Dragon in red. It brings both flying and haste. Flying and haste are two awesome abilities, in fact. It is reminiscent of past five drop dragons like Thundermaw Hellkite and especially Stormbreath Dragon.

Like Stormbreath Dragon, this 4/4 for five has a specialty. While Stormbreath Dragon was a powerful threat that could punish decks relying on Azorius Charm for point defense, Glorybringer is poised to punish creature decks and especially [other] mid-range decks.

Glorybringer: Comparing Five-Drops

Mike and Patrick are both wildly excited about Glorybringer. The card is powerful and can potentially be a fast clock.

Sadly, it does not automatically rule the sky… Or even rule the category of five mana 4/4 flyers.

Consider Archangel Avacyn. You might mistakenly think the coast is clear and send in to brain the opponent for four, or exert to kill a small creature.

Oops.

The way wasn’t clear, and the opponent can deploy a contextually-better 4/4. What happens is that Archangel Avacyn enters the battlefield and gives its team (including itself) indestructible. When Avacyn goes to block… It will smoosh Glorybringer, but live itself.

The only saving grace is that these indestructible Avacyn windows only last one turn (at least per angel).

Glorybringer, the Gideon-Killer

The real excitement around this card is its single-minded design of killing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Glorybringer has just the amount of power — and just the pinch of haste necessary — to come down and whack Gideon before the opponent can do very much about it. The really cool bonus here is that, due to the Exert option, you can take out Gideon’s Knight token, too.

Top Level Podcast also covers a number of other Amonkhet cards this week, from Trueheart Duelist (Mike’s favorite) to Dusk // Dawn (Patrick’s).

Join us!

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The Aven Mindcensor Masterpiece!

Aven Mindcensor Masterpiece
Aven Mindcensor is one of the first ever non-artifact Masterpieces!

Pro Tour Champion (and Patrick’s Team Top Level teammate) Craig Wescoe joins us to reveal a sweet Amonkhet Masterpiece!

Aven Mindcensor debuted in Future Sight. The Bird Wizard has been a favorite of “Hate Bears” fans ever since. It is perfect against cards like Evolving Wilds or Scalding Tarn… Because it has flash, you can respond to the activation of a search land, and really mess the opponent’s selection plan up.

Craig’s Aven Mindcensor Modern Deck

Aven Mindcensor is a perfect reveal for Craig. Not only is Craig generally famous for White Weenie-type deck play, he actually made Top 8 of Grand Prix Pittsburgh a few years back playing both it and Brimaz, King of Oreskos at the three. (Craig takes his Twitter handle from the latter three drop.)

GW Hate Bears

The Amonkhet Masterpiece Frame

From the top…

  • The top of the Masterpiece does in fact indicate the card’s name. I know it looks like some crazy hieroglyphic stuff, but if you look closely, that’s actually a font.
  • Ditto on the “type” line; this remains in fact a Bird Wizard.
  • Bolas, Bolas everywhere! Nicol Bolas is all over this card. Not only can you see the dragon’s iconic horns int he background of this image, but stylized versions appear at the bottom-left, bottom-right, and all around the center hologram.

We think you’ll agree that no matter what else, this is a really inventive and cool looking take on a reprinted card. Check out our full take:

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Special Guest Craig Wescoe – @brimaz4life

Patrick Chapin – @thepchapin
Mike Flores – @fivewithflores

Mastering Dynavolt Tower

Dynavolt Tower
Given enough time, Dynavolt Tower will win the game for you, itself.

One of the under-appreciated synergies in Temur Tower — a key upgrade from its roots as a straight U/R deck — is the inclusion of Attune with Aether. It’s not just that Attune with Aether helps set up a base of energy (you can have two or more energy in reserve when you first lay your Dynavolt Tower), it’s the impact late game.

Think about a deck with twenty-five or even twenty-six lands. You don’t gain energy by drawing a land. But an Attune with Aether? Substituting a land with Attune with Aether one-for-one makes these late-game topdecks worth four energy. Bang!

Keeping a strong energy reserve fuels your Dynavolt Tower. And given enough time, the Tower will win the game for you by itself.

Patrick calls Victor Fernanado Silva’s Temur Dynavolt Tower deck “a masterpiece” …

Victor Fernanado Silva won the most recent Standard Grand Prix, breaking up the two-point-five deck metagame of Mardu and Saheeli Rai with Temur Tower’s first big win. Silva killed some Dynavolt darlings, and presented a version meaningfully different from other Dynavolt Tower control decks we’ve seen. Most notably, the creatures.

Instead of playing any Rogue Refiners, Silva played “only” four Torrential Gearhulks.

Torrential Gearhulk ups the power of the archetype… While in a Shock-heavy format, it’s unclear that Rogue Refiner would ever even have blocked.

Perhaps even more telling was Silva’s emphasis on control in his build.

Dynavolt Tower Control

Ten. Count ’em. There are ten permission spells in that main deck. Negate and Horribly Awry? More copies of Void Shatter than Disallow at the three? Silva was able to take advantage of a predictable metagame to choose the right answers to solve the format’s problems.

Per Patrick: A masterpiece.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores discuss not just Dynavolt Tower but all the key moves and trends to keep you up to date on Standard in “Mastering Dynavolt Tower”

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Leaning on a Basic Mountain

Basic Mountain
At GPNJ, Hall of Famer Ben Stark ran his red splash on one basic Mountain

Ben Stark broke up a generally two-deck format (Mardu Vehicles and Saheeli Rai combo) with a rogue Jund aggro deck. His Jund deck, reminiscent of one from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt, adds red for Unlicensed Disintegration only.

This week Patrick Sullivan joins us to discuss the one Basic Mountain in Ben Stark's GPNJ Top 8 list (and many other topics)!

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Unlicenced Disintegration only. Yeah – it’s that good.

Otherwise Ben’s deck is a B/G Energy deck. He played Greenbelt Rampager and Longtusk Cub as fast and energy-rich threat creatures. Per usual Winding Constrictor combined with both +1/+1 counters and energy counters for wide and dramatic impact.

Surprising, maybe, was that Ben’s deck played only two copies of Verdurous Gearhulk. This was a deck that was not particularly interested in going toe-to-toe with conventional B/G decks. Not only was it likely out-Gearhulk’d, but its sideboard grinding options like Gonti, Lord of Luxury just bring it to main deck par with versions like Brad Nelson’s.

Instead it has the one basic Mountain.

Finding Your Basic Mountain

Given that one card is the defining “difference that makes the difference” that makes this deck, finding it is pretty important. Yes, Ben’s deck does play Aether Hub. Not only does that land tap for red in a pinch, you can easily imagine catching someone with Unlicensed Disintegration out of nowhere. However the basic Mountain is an important source of red. Ben could find it with one of four Attune with Aethers or three Evolving Wilds.

Mike suggests that perhaps only one Hissing Quagmire (versus the two Ben played) is correct, in deference to a fourth Evolving Wilds.

“If it’s wrong,” retorts our special guest, “it’s not wrong by much.”

Enter the Rainmaker

Who better to guest star in an episode focused on mana bases than @basicmountain himself, Rainmaker Patrick Sullivan?

PSulli joins Patrick Chapin & MichaelJ in a discussion of how to find one basic Mountain, and whether 21 or 26 lands is right for Torrential Gearhulk decks.

Check out “Leaning on a Basic Mountain” now:

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Your Hosts:

Patrick Chapin – @thepchapin
Michael J Flores – @fivewithflores
Patrick Sullivan – @basicmountain

Unlicensed Disintegration & U/R Improvise

Unlicensed Disintegration
Unlicensed Disintegration is one of the defining cards of the current Standard… And is probably too good.

Unlicensed Disintegration is an odd one. “Orzhov” decks will splash red for it. Seemingly two-color red-green decks will go Jund for it. Why? At least in the context of Standard, it’s just too good.

Compare Unlicensed Disintegration and Murder. Both are three mana. Both destroy a creature at instant speed. Theoretically the different color on Unlicensed Disintegration is a disincentive (though one you get paid a lot for). The crazy thing is that Unlicensed Disintegration can actually be easier to play than the one-color Murder in many decks! Artifacts or no, it can just be smoother than finding a second black mana.

Of course the presence of artifacts goes a long way with this card.

Patrick makes the obvious comparison to Blightning:

“Mind Rot… Not the greatest card. Fringe / almost playable. Add three damage and it’s warping.”

Unlicensed Disintegration takes a better-than-fringe playable card (Murder) and tacks a “Lava Spike cantrip” to it. The ask of having an artifact in play is so trivial for the dominating Mardu decks. Their Thraben Inspector gives you artifacts. Their Heart of Kiran is an artifact! It’s even cool for Grixis decks to play just Torrential Gearhulk as an artifact (to again enable Unlicensed Disintegration).

Will it get banned on Monday? Patrick sure hopes so!

Our intrepid duo talk not only Unlicensed Disintegration the card, but compare the two main schools of Mardu.

… And then go in a completely different direction!

The Improvise Deck Patrick Almost Played at PT Aether Revolt:

Patrick's UR Improvise deck. We discuss it and more in this week's podcast.

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“Unlicensed Disintegration & U/R Improvise” is a Standard cheat sheet. If you are looking to grok Standard prior to Monday’s changes, look — rather, listen — no further.

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What Makes Ad Nauseam a Fantastic Choice

Ad Nauseam
Ad Nauseam is the centerpiece of a powerful Modern combo deck.

The Winning Ad Nauseam Deck

Nicholas Byrd won the most recent Modern Open with a wonderfully positioned Ad Nauseam deck. This style of deck combines the mana acceleration of Simian Spirit Guide, Pentad Prism, and Desperate Ritual with a number of esoteric and specialized cards to kill with a solo Lightning Storm.

The Ad Nauseum Combo

The core combination here is namesake Ad Nauseam + Angel’s Grace. While Under Angel’s Grace you cannot lose the game. So… You can’t accidentally kill yourself. Yay!

An alternate to Angel’s Grace is Phyrexian Unlife. Because the card Ad Nauseam uses your life total for fuel, Phyrexian Unlife [further] protects you by protecting you from the opponent. Playing against Phyrexian Unlife can be challenging for the unfamiliar.

Example:

If you are at 1 life, it at some level doesn’t matter if the opponent attacks with one creature with one power or one hundred creatures with one hundred power each. A single combat will not “overload” the Phyrexian Unlife. None of the damage from a single attack will start dealing infect.

This strategy might not be the deck you want to play when Infect is popular… But Infect is less popular than it has been in months: Opportunity! This kind of positioning, combined with the raw power and potential speed of the combo itself, are what made Ad Nauseam such a great choice for last weekend.

All that said, this archetype’s sideboard options may be what really set it apart. With four — count ’em, four — copies of Leyline of Sanctity (plus a Timely Reinforcements), it is well prepared for the popular (and performing) Lava Spike decks. I had to do a double take on Darkness. Yep, that Legends instant was in fact reprinted in Time Spiral. Much as regular old Fog can buy Mono-Green Tron tons of setup time, Darkness can effectively undo all the effort an opponent put in to Empty the Warrens, Death’s Shadow, or Cranial Plating.

While we discuss Ad Nauseum at length, this is more of a “Modern Potpourri” episode, with time devoted to everything from Gruul Ponza to Architects of Will. Check it out:

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