Detection Tower Makes the Difference

Detection Tower
Detection Tower was a key addition to Golgari in last week’s Grand Prix

What Does Detection Tower Do?

This card does two things. One of them is simply to tap for a colorless mana. It takes up a land slot (more on this later) rather than a spell slot. As long as you can afford a slightly greedier mana base, adding Detection Tower is kind of free.

But more than that, Detection Tower can steal Hexproof from “opponents and creatures your opponents control”. The Standard format has simply gone so far in a particular direction (or set of directions) that ridding yourself the horrors of Hexproof becomes very attractive.

Most notably:

  • Carnage Tyrant – Most opposing Golgari decks will play 2-3 Carnage Tyrants. This giant dinosaur will kill you if left unanswered. It lives through Find // Finality, which clears the path. BUT! If you cause Carnage Tyrant to lose Hexproof, it becomes a six casting cost creature that did not generate card advantage.
  • Niv-Mizzet, Parun – The Adrian Sullivan builds incorporating Dive Down changes the Izzet-Golgari matchup. While Golgari still has Vivien Reid, The Eldest Reborn, and Ravenous Chupacabra for cards that can kill Niv-Mizzet without triggering it. Golgari retains those tools… But Dive Down changes, dramatically, what having those cards means.

Can Jeskai Play Detection Tower?

Golgari has natural synergy with Detection Tower. With Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger, and potentially Seekers Squire as its Explore card advantage guys, Golgari’s draw engine is especially suited to finding a specialty land (or two).

The opposite is, unfortunately, true for Jeskai. Rather that having a natural synergy with its key creatures… Because both Cracking Drake and Niv-Mizzet, Parun require all blue and red mana, Detection Tower can’t help cast any of them.

Michael and Patrick spitball how to incorporate this land despite the challenging Jeskai mana base.

Find out how in this week’s podcast!

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How to Kill a Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant
Carnage Tyrant is one of the most important threats in Standard

Carnage Tyrant is an important card, a pillar of the entire Standard metagame. When this format debuted, the big Dinosaur was largely a mirror threat, a long-term answer to an opposing Golgari deck. You would land it, play Find // Finality to clear any non-Dinosaur creatures from the battlefield, finish the game with Carnage Tyrant.

But today, a renaissance of Carnage Tyrant is largely driven by the success of Jeskai. You see, Carnage Tyrant is as much as a three-of (alongside three copies of Vivien Reid) in some versions. Reid is there to kill Niv-Mizzet, Parun without triggering it; the Tyrant is for the opponent’s face.

The Jeskai Trio Can Kill Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant is one of the best cards against Jeskai! The irony is… Jeskai has several cards that can deal with it. Cleansing Nova and Settle the Wreckage are both efficient answers to multiple creatures (depending on what they’re doing). But the big weapon is Star of Extinction! The Star can deal 20 damage to any number of theoretically hexproof creatures, and take all the Planeswalkers with both of them!

The Eldest Reborn Can Be Great Against Carnage Tyrant

The Eldest Reborn can theoretically help against Carnage Tyrant. If you’re a black deck of some type, you will have to take care of all its friends first. Cards like Ritual of Soot can help with that; then The Eldest Reborn can show hexproof where it’s at.

Subtly, if you’re a discard deck with Disinformation Campaign or Thought Erasure, The Eldest Reborn — even if it’s not hitting Carnage Tyrant on turn five — can nab one from the bin [even] later in the game.

Unmoored Ego Can Hangle a Carnage Tyrant (or four)

And if you really, really, need to take care of a 7/6 Dinosaur that you can’t counter, and you can’t target later… You might want to consider Unmoored Ego. Largely a Grixis card due to its color constraints, Unmoored Ego may offer some defense to other hard-to-answer cards, like Banefire.

This week on the Top Level Podcast, we discuss these details and many more. The MOCS was full effect, so there is further discussion of Boros Weenie, tons of Jeskai, and many other looks at Control as well as this Golgari-centric threat talk. Give it a listen:

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Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Jeskai Control

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Playing Four Copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun changes just about everything

Adrian Sullivan, one of the true godfathers of Magic strategy, took down Grand Prix Milwaukee last weekend. And in true Adrian style, he did so with a unique deck… This time, a “Jeskai Control” with four copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

Playing four copies of that big threat (when most Jeskai play as few as zero main deck) changes the deck and its matchups at a fundamental level. Here are some of the meaningful ways how…

Dive Down becomes a plausible Magic: The Gathering card – Adrian played only seven creatures! Yet, two copies of Dive Down make sense… Relative to just a couple more Ionizes. Dive Down simply protects Niv-Mizzet when you’re on seven or more mana. You’re getting paid on multiple fronts, then hopefully untap with Niv-Mizzet in play.

Adrian’s deck plays a truly elegant mana base – Sullivan actually went down on lands relative to some other Jeskai decks… But it made more sense. There is not a single basic Plains. Why? Plains doesn’t cast Niv-Mizzet. Adrian still needed white for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or the odd Settle the Wreckage, but had the discipline to bias his mana base in favor of his unique creature decision.

Other Jeskai Decks quake in fear of main-deck Niv-Mizzet – Most of Adrian’s cards actually line up worse, card-for-card against other Jeskai decks. He can plausibly lose a lot of one-for-one battles. Unfortunately for the opponent, Adrian could win only one fight (say, over Niv-Mizzet, who can’t be countered) and with it, the game.

Adrian chose Treasure Map over Azor’s Gateway

We recently saw Elis Kassis play Azor’s Gateway to go alongside Expansion // Explosion and Banefire.

Adrian did something similar… He just played Treasure Map in that four-of slot. Treasure Map is less powerful for casting x-spells than Azor’s Gateway, but much more reliable. For Azor’s Gateway, you need to go to the well five times; not only that, but you have to hit five times. Conversely, Treasure Map will flip with three activations, every time.

The potential card advantage of Treasure Map lets it take up the Chemister’s Insight slot, but going much faster.

Big congrats to Adrian and his Jeskai deck.

Michael and Patrick take a nice long look at that deck, but also hit on the other main archetypes in Standard, including innovations for Golgari, Grixis, and Selesnya Tokens!

Check it all out now:

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Exclusive UMA Preview: Sovereigns of Lost Alara

Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Sovereigns of Lost Alara was the defining centerpiece to a powerful strategy.

This spirit is big…

But it’s not really that big for its cost. I mean… 4/5 for six? That barely qualifies as a fatty. Now 4/5 for four might be more like it.

Well… Sovereigns of Lost Alara did have Exalted. When attacking alone, it was more of a 5/6 for six, right? Sure, sure. But maybe more importantly, its Exalted had “haste”. Like, if you had a creature already in play, it could attack and get the Exalted.

But still… 4/5 for…

What about 15/16 for six?

Fifteen-sixteen? What are you talking about, Willis?

Eldrazi Conscription
How about you go and get Eldrazi Conscription?

Oh yeah, there’s that second clause after “Exalted”. If you attacked with a creature alone — Sovereigns or someone else — you could search your library for an Aura and play it for free. It just made sense to play a huge one that had a huge impact on the game (that you wouldn’t normally want to pay retail for).

Enter: One of the most successful Standard decks of its era.

Give our little preview / recap a listen:

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The Three Styles of Boros Aggro

Boros
Boros Aggro took a whopping six of the Top 8 spots at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.

Basic Mountain: Boros Aggro? Boros TOKENS!

PT Champion Jeremy Dezani showed us one of the new styles of Boros Aggro. Relative to the other decks in Top 8, this “redder” r-w deck had many points of differentiation when compared with the “whiter” or even mono-white builds.

Chief among this would be a missing Benalish Marshall. Benalish Marshall is very good… Unless you are playing lands that don’t tap for white.

Dezani played a whopping four basic Mountains!

These Mountains helped to support a couple of gold cards (two Boros Challengers, and two copies of Aurelia, Expmplar of Justice), but more importantly, four copies of Goblin Instigator.

Instigator is thematically appropriate for such a tokens-centric deck list. Jeremy played both Hunted Witness and Heroic Reinforcements; neither is an automatic four-of in Boros Aggro.

Mini-Soul Sisters: Ajani’s Pridemate in Boros Aggro

One of the most unique takes on Boros was played by Luis Scott-Vargas.

Luis and team “splashed” Ajani’s Pridemate into their White Weenie deck. This card starts off with a little bit of life gain with Healer’s Hawk. Adding Leonin Vanguard gives the Pridemate plenty of things use to grow Ajani’s Pridemate. The Pridement itslef can play a little bit of Tarmogoyf; it only costs two mana, but it can pack quite the punch. Given the limited spot removal of some of these white aggro decks, an Ajani’s Pridemate with too many +1/+1 counters is just going to kill you.

Rustwing Falcon: Trusty Rusty in Boros Aggro

One card you might have espied in the PT Guilds of Ravnica Top 8 is Rustwing Falcon.

“A 1/2 flyer for W?” you ask. “Why would you play this?”

There are two reasons:

  1. If you think people are going to play Healer’s Hawk — and all the Boros Aggro decks are playing between 2 and 4 copies — Rustwing Falcon rules the skies.
  2. Goblin Chainwhirler. The success of these White Weenie-type decks is largely predicated on people just not playing Mono-Red, and therefore being able to ignore its indiscriminate slaughter of x/1 creatures. Rustwing Falcon, with its two toughness, offers some incidental resistance to Goblin Chainwhirler.

The winning list, played by Andrew Elenbogen, went even lower: If 1/2 flyers make you scratch your head… What do you think about 0/3 dinosaurs?

Beyond Boros Aggro…

While there were six Boros decks in the Top 8, those slots were largely earned on Limited records. Consequently, Standard has lots more viable decks. And boy do we talk about them!

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Supreme Phantom – How is This a Real Magic Card?

Supreme Phantom
Supreme Phantom

How is Supreme Phantom a Real Magic Card?

Not so long ago, our own beloved MichaelJ played a 1/3 creature for 1U. Its goal was just to slow down the many 2/1 creatures of the Standard Red deck of the time. The U in its upper-right helped to power up Master of Waves, but this card had to, more or less, contribute successfully on its own.

This card served Mike super well. He sided it in in the Top 8 of the Regional PTQ, essentially cancelling all the Foul-Tongue Invocations his opponent had drawn. That card was, of course, Omenspeaker.

Omenspeaker was fine. Unexciting, but Mike really wanted it for the 1/3 body. Compare that to Supreme Phantom…

Supreme Phantom is also a 1/3 creature for 1U. But instead of a fairly minor Scry ability, it has two abilities… And they’re both doozies. Flying is maybe the best keyword evasion ability in Magic, and its +1/+1 buff ability makes the card a perfect anchor for the Bant Spirits archetype.

Supreme Phantom in Bant Spirits

Supreme Phantom is obviously a great card in Bant Spirits. The Grand Prix winning list by Peiyuan Zheng plays double-digit Spirits. That starts the Phantom off with tons of potential buddies to buff. But even better? Hexproof!

With Geist of Sant Traft, or, perhaps more importantly, Drogskol Captain, many a Spirit will live to smash many a face.

Bant Spirits in the Modern Context

Besides its awesome sideboard options to dominate KCI or Dredge, Bant Spirits has a solid game plan of its own.

It’s got the StOmPy draw enabled by the Phantom; Bant can turn up the speed sometimes! It’s got Spell Queller. But not only that, it’s got Collected Company off the green splash! This gives Bant Spirits essentially eight permission spells in Game One (as the Company can hit Queller).

While not the most specialized archetype, Bant Spirits did win the Extended Grand Prix last week, and that makes it more than worth discussing / looking at.

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Watch Out for Tocatli Honor Guard

Tocatli Honor Guard
Tocatli Honor Guard will be a main-deck four-of

Tocatli Honor Guard Just Got a Promotion

This card was previously largely a sideboard card; Patrick himself played it in his R/W Control deck as a foil for Energy triggers. Today, the Honor Guard is an amazing inclusion specifically to stifle the Golgari Midrange deck.

Golgari relies heavily on the 187 effects of its creatures. You cant — you actually can’t — remove a Tocatli Honor Guard from play with a Ravenous Chupacabra. Worse yet, Golgari will often he in a situation where it needs its Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger to hit lands.

With the Honor Guard in play?

If you started out manascrewed, you’re staying manascrewed.

Tocatli Honor Guard is Played in Boros and Selesnya

Both of the white aggro strategies played the Honor Guard at Grand Prix New Jersey.

For Boros, the Honor Guard took the spot of Knight of Grace. For Selesnya, playing this card means killing its own darlings. Simply, you don’t get to play your own Explore guys.

On the other hand, you really do beat up anyone relying on creature-based 187 engines. In addition, it is a 1/3 creature, and therefore, pretty good at blocking the Red Deck.

Don’t Sleep on Jeskai

Eli Kassis broke the Jeskai archetype wide open in New Jersey. Instead of Cracking Drake, Eli played Azor’s Gateway. Not only does this give him something to dow with his extra lands (especially given his enormous mana count) it flips consistently for Banefire and Expansion // Explosion. Azor’s Gateway into Sanctum of the Sun represents a meaningful different dimension for the control strategy. Banefire for, say 24 will be uncounterable.

Check it:

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Will Tajic, Legion’s Edge Take Over Modern?

Tajic, Legion's Edge
Will Tajic, Legion’s Edge break into a Humans deck near you?

Tajic, Legion’s Edge provides Humans with Many Tools

Kevin Ambler added Tajic, Legion’s Edge to his Top 8 deck from last week’s Modern Open. Tajic provides many awesome advantages to a Humans deck:

  • Tajic has much of the Mantis Rider to him. Mantis Rider was one of the highest performing cards in Humans before, and this is another three-power hasty attacker
  • Exalted is a little bit of a non-bo with Mentor, but to that Mantis Rider comment, above, Tajic is a sweet follow-up to Noble Hierarch on turn two
  • Further, you can drop Tajic with an Aether Vial mid-combat [with mana open]… And get a sweet block!
  • Most importantly, Tajic’s “Prevent all noncombat damage that would be dealt to other creatures you control” clause is just bananas in a deck with 35 other creatures! You can drop Tajic at instant speed not only for a sweet block, but to “counter” a burn spell. This can shut down cards like Izzet Staticaster or Grim Lavamancer that often lock down Humans. This card is amazing against sweepers. Trade your Tajic for a Slagstorm? Trade Tajic for the rest of your team.
  • “Very impressive advancement by Kevin.”

    “Could become industry-standard.”

Guilds of Ravnica is Poppin’ in Modern!

Tajic might be the most archetype-influencing, but he certainly wasn’t alone in Guilds of Ravnica’s additions to the format. Further highlights:

  • Risk Factor in Jund? Michael loves it, but is not in love with it. Patrick respects Risk Factor’s interaction with Liliana of the Veil. Both our hosts agree that for a deck that is sometimes beatdown, sometimes card advantage… You’re not likely to get the beatdown when you want it, and not likely to get the card advantage when you want it. But it won!
  • Creeping Chill in Dredge! One of the week’s most exciting innovations, Creeping Chill is turning the Dredge deck design on its ear. A man with Shriekhorn in his Dredge deck means serious business.
  • Knight of Autumn in Humans. Will it ever be “just a big guy”? Mike is a little incredulous. Knight of Autumn does what Reclamation Sage did, and the “gain four” mode is just as valuable in certain matchups.
  • Arclight Phoenix: Simply the future of Modern.

Modern. Guilds of Ravnica. What are you waiting for?

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Golgari Runs the Tables

Golgari

We’re just a couple of weeks into the new Standard and there is a clear current king: Golgari.

What makes Golgari so good?

The Standard b-g deck is basically a stack of two-for-ones. Most of them play Llanowar Elves, but believe it or not, some simply don’t!

Many of the Elves-less versions play as many as twelve two and three casting cost Explore creatures, meaning they have a very high likelihood of hitting their early land drops. They may sacrifice Llanowar Evles — one of the only cards consistently dominated by Goblin Chainwhirler — for the security and consistency of drawing all two-for-ones.

Explore two-for-ones like Merfolk Branchwalker are outstanding blockers, even when they trade. The b-g actually wants to put creatures into the graveyard for cards like the Findbroker or Find // Finality.

Basically: This strategy combines consistent early game draws and hitting land drops with a consistent flow of card advantage. In the absence of a blisteringly fast or over-the-top threat deck, that is a heck of a combo for Standard.

Golgari in Context

Standard b-g is an outstanding anti-beatdown deck. Not only do its early game creatures block and trade well, but you can gain access to cards like Wildgrowth Walker.

Not only does Wildgrowth Walker completely dominate cards like Viashino Pyromancer, it is just big enough to contain Knights from History of Benalia and many other small creatures. Of course, a deck with twelve Explore guys is going to make this card look fantastic. Turn two Wildgrowth Walker, turn three Jadelight Ranger?

That is, “give my Walker +2/+2, gain six, draw two cards… and still play a 2/1 creature”? Heck of a combo. Series of combos, even.

Sorry Red Deck: Meet Golgari

So Golgari draws extra cards every turn… Or kills your creature with its creature… Or gains size and life simultaneously… Can other decks compete on card advantage?

What about our darling from last week, Experimental Frenzy?

The problem is that on top of everything else, Golgari can remove almost any kind of permanent!

Vivian Reid can shoot enchantments like Experimental Frenzy and keep kicking. Moreover, Assassin’s Trophy is great at shooting at a big enchantment. On the other hand, Assassin’s Trophy is not good against Golgari generally… All of its guys are two-for-ones! How much card advantage do you want to give the opponent? As flexible as Assassin’s Trophy can be, it’s not at its best against Golgari.

Michael and Patrick give you the lowdown on how to approach this format-defining deck, whether you want to beat it… Or join it.

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Is Experimental Frenzy the New Necropotence?

Experimental Frenzy
Mike thinks Experimental Frenzy is a Necropotence-esque card.

What does he mean by this? To Mike, Experimental Frenzy is going to inform both deck design and in-game play. Like Necropotence, the Frenzy is going to offer a relentless stream of card advantage limited only by how much land you have in play.

But the card — at least when surrounded by a bunch of cheap creatures and burn — is really good at playing many cards per turn + hitting that land drop. That said…

Experimental Frenzy gets stuck on consecutive lands

Sadly, this is a true story.

Part of the long-term challenge in building Experimental Frenzy Red Decks will be how you solve this problem. There will be multiple possible solutions. Here are some ideas:

  • Dismissive Pyromancer – A Human Wizard, this card synergizes with the Wizard’s Lightning you’ve already got. The Pyromancer can shoot at large creatures but also change the top card of your library under Frenzy.
  • Treasure Map – An amazing tool against mid-range and Control decks, Treasure Map is one of the best possible cards to have in play while under Frenzy. It can help you dig to what you need early, then keep your gas going late.
  • Field of Ruin – Mike is currently sideboarding this card as his extra land. Not only does it have text against stuff like Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin; it can change the top card of your library while you are under Frenzy.
  • Risk Factor – a new card from Guilds of Ravnica, Risk Factor can be played from the graveyard while you are under Frenzy, often changing your top card. For next level performance, try discarding Risk Factor to your Risk Factor.

The Best of the Rest:

Boros Angels – Find out about the new home of Lyra Dawnbringer and friends.

G/W Tokens – Mike claims this is the most powerful initial deck in the format.

Blue control (various) – Get ready for a change of pace!

One thing is for sure: Standard is waaaaay different than it was a couple of weeks ago. Check it out:

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