Heart of Kiran and Three New Planeswalkers

Heart of Kiran
Heart of Kiran is one of the exciting new vehicles from Aether Revolt.
We know from Smuggler’s Copter how good a two mana vehicle can be.

Aether Revolt is pushing that limit even more with Heart of Kiran. Make no mistake… This card might be bananas. Imagine playing Heart of Kiran on turn two, then following up with Liliana or Nissa on turn three. You can slam with the Heart of Kiran and still gain ground on the battlefield by destroying a threat or making a Plant.

There are two important things to take away from this card:

  1. You basically get to access Planeswalker loyalty twice per turn. The first use is the regular one; the second is a swing with Heart of Kiran.
  2. Because Heart of Kiran has vigilence, it can block. Got a spare loyalty? You can spring a 4/4 blocker on demand. The best thing? At least early in the Heart’s career, you may be able to steal a body or two.

Some of the cards in Aether Revolt — most notably Ajani Unyeilding — imply a Planeswalker collective deck. Heart of Kiran might be great in that kind of deck, a two drop that comes down faster than any Planeswalker in Standard, and capable of thriving in a context rich with loyalty.

As explosive as the loyalty-leeching alternate crew cost may be, the regular crew cost on this card is challenging. Crew 3 is much harder to hit than Crew 1; Nissa was already struggling in a Smugger’s Copter-first format, but at least Gideon could make 2/2 creatures. Now even [one of] Gideon’s tokens need assistance. Not a fatal flaw to this card at all… But something, certainly, to be wary of as you select your creatures.

More, and three (!!!) new Planeswalkers here:

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Yahenni’s Expertise and the Aether Revolt Spoilers

Yahenni's Expertise
Yahenni’s Expertise is like a Languish married a Bloodbraid Elf
It’s that time again! Top Level Podcast’s favorite time… Spoiler season.

Early Aether Revolt spoilers bring us three new cards to talk about: Yahenni’s Expertise, Trophy Mage, and Scrap Trawler.

Yahenni’s Expertise

  • -3/-3 hits a surprisingly sweet spot in the current Standard. Not only is -3/-3 for all creatures not all that bad for 2BB, tons of the best creatures in Standard have three toughness, like Reflector Mage and Spell Queller.
  • While Yahenni’s Expertise doesn’t give the full -4/-4 that Languish does, the additional ability to cast a card for no additional mana might make this card a powerhouse. For example, you can sweep the board and cast a card drawing spell in one move. In Modern, you might play Yahenni’s Expertise and pop an Ancestral Vision!
  • The secondary ability on Yahenni’s Expertise can act as a kind of color fixing. Don’t be surprised if players cheat a little with this card, splashing additional colors they wouldn’t easily be able to cast.

Trophy Mage

  • Trinket Mage and Treasure Mage* have a new cousin!
  • The number of cards you can find with this is huge, varied, and highly flexible. For instance you can lock some opponents out with Ensnaring Bridge… And lock others out with Crucible of Worlds. Psst… Oblivion Stone costs three mana.

Scrap Trawler

Four words “Even. More. Card. Advantage.”

Our first stab at Aether Revolt:

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* Incidentally, Patrick made Top 8 of PT Paris a few years ago packing Treasure Mage for Mindslaver and Wurmcoil Engine only!

How Do You Get to be the Best in the World?

Best in the World
How do you get to be the best in the world?

Happy Thanksgiving from Top Level Podcast!

In this very different episode Michael and Patrick trade a combination of old (even apocryphal) stories that have shaped their perspectives as players and thinkers.

You know, like…

  • There exists a noteworthy playtest technique that Mike once swore by. It isn’t for everyone… But it was — at least in the story that converted Mike — used by the best player in the world at the time.
  • Sometimes you have a 10% Game One matchup. Consequently you have to jam 8/15 sideboard cards in for a common opponent. Knowing this, just how often do you have to win to make up for that bad Game One?
  • In smaller formats you can sometimes make your main good against Rock and Paper, and use your sideboard to shore up Scissors. We discuss a variety of of sideboard strategies from historical, successful, decks.
  • Say I told you Canopy Spider is better than Bottle Gnomes against Jackal Pup… Could you tell me why?
  • Esper Charm is super flexible. One mode allows you to destroy an enchantment. Why might you ignore that “Get Out of Jail Free” card against onetime boogeyman Bitterblossom? Hint: It wasn’t all that free.
  • How to react when the opponent Disenchants your Necropotence
  • Dark Confidant. Bob. The Great One. Almost universally acknowledged as one of the best two drops of all time. But Mike tends to let Bob live. We discuss different ways to approach removing a Dark Confidant. Patrick has a wonderful, if non-intuitive, strategy around hand destruction when playing against Bob.
  • “I have made a terrible mistake.” Mis-judging the opponent’s archetype based on which lands they play can be a killer. Mike and Patrick share sad and happy war stories, respectively.
  • Can you beat a guy with seven Counterspells in his hand?

Time to Level Up!

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Karn Liberated and the Answer to a Blood Moon Victory

Karn Liberated
Say Blood Moon wins the last big Modern event. What’s the plan? How about we go UrzaTron with 4 Karn Liberated?
Before we start…

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Okay… So part of this is just Tom Ross. How is Tom Ross a real person / Magic: The Gathering player? Tom’s reaction to Blood Moon winning Grand Prix Dallas was to play an even slower deck that relied on not just nonbasic lands… But getting three particular nonbasic lands onto the battlefield!

Part of it is that Tom correctly assessed that people would prepare for Blood Moon decks, maybe making decks good against anti-Blood Moon decks that much better. It turned out he was right!

G/W Tron over G/R Tron

The main [deck] reason to play green-white UrzaTron instead of the more traditional green-red build is Path to Exile. That is, Tom played Path to Exile over Pyroclasm in the starting sixty.

Three copies of a spot removal card is hardly the whole point, though. Not only does the Tron deck manage Path to Exile better than almost any other deck (who cares if the opponent gets one extra basic land when you are tapping yours for three?), it makes much better use of the white mana… Just elsewhere.

  • Rest in Peace – Tom’s sideboard featured Rest in Peace, a powerful supplement to the main deck’s Relic of Progenitus and another great spell against Dredge.
  • Blessed Alliance – Blessed Alliance is a really flexible card here that really blunts the advantage Burn decks have often had against Ramp ones. Blessed Alliance doesn’t just counter a Boros Charm, it can surprise the opponent with a Wurmcoil Engine or smite a Tarmogoyf.

Seven is big, and they just get bigger

The natural one-two-three is Urza’s Tower, Urza’s Power Plant, and Urza’s Mine in some order. That allows you to tap for seven mana with just three lands, or the cost of a Karn Liberated.

On eight mana you get Ugin, the Spirit Dragon and ten mana gives you Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger. Seemingly every play from there allows you to go “over the top” of a fair opponent’s game plan. It’s just about hitting your lands, and then landing almost any hitter to win.

Karn Liberated is only one answer to Blood Moon

There are a ton of direct answers to Blood Moon in Tom’s deck, incidentally… Karn can remove a Blood Moon from the battlefield, as can either Ugin or Ulamog. Casting those cards might be tough under a Blood Moon, though (and World Breaker might be even tougher with its colored mana in seven). However Oblivion Ring costs just three mana to start. If Tom is not under substantial life points pressure, he can work an Oblivion Ring to really asymmetrical advantage. It can free up his lands from under Blood Moon easily, regardless.

The deck has a good number of answers to obvious threats and strategies. Main deck Relic of Progenitus can give Dredge fits, while Spellskite will have an Infect player’s head scratching. Tom’s deck isn’t necessarily about locking out a game forever… Some of these tools are just there to buy time; remember – given a window to make a play, it’s unlikely there is one on the other side of the table better than one of Tom’s.

Plenty of G/W Torn, but More Modern in “Karn Liberated and the Answer to a Blood Moon Victory”

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Is Skred Red a Prison Deck?

When recording this episode, Patrick and Mike didn’t even know Skred Red was going to win the GP.

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Patrick is in NYC this week, so the Top Level Podcast boys have the rare opportunity to podcast IRL, sitting next to one another.

For our (almost) two year anniversary, Chapin and Flores chat about the Grand Prix Dallas Modern Top 8 as it happens. Spoilers! They don’t know who wins (yet). Patrick loves Grixis (surprise surprise); Mike cheers for longtime friend Phil Napoli (to no avail); and both love-hate the Skred Red deck [that ends up winning it all].

So how about those twenty Snow-Covered Mountains?

Skred Red in the Modern Metagame

Kevin Mackie’s Skred Red deck is ultimately a really nicely positioned metagame deck. Going into Grand Prix Dallas, Dredge was considered one of the top decks. What was Mackie’s response? Four — count ’em four — copies of Relic of Progenitus main. How do you like that, Dredge opponent? Well even if Dredge manages to go off prior to (or through) a Relic of Progenitus, he has Anger of the Gods main, too!

Anger of the Gods exiles creatures as it sweeps them. That means that no matter how many Prized Amalgams you get, Mackie’s sorcery kills them all, dead, forever. Exile!

The combination of Relic of Progenitus and Anger of the Gods really suppress the Dredge deck’s plan.

But what about people who actually want to cast their cards? Mackie has Blood Moon for them!

Eternal Scourge in Skred Red

Eternal Scourge
Spoilers! Mike doesn’t know what Eternal Scourge does.

“This is the best Skred Red deck I’ve ever seen.”

Aside from the Prison-esque elements, Mackie innovates the Skred Red archetype by adding Eternal Scourge. Not only is Eternal Scourge great against point removal (you can almost always buy it back easily), you can “make your own Call of the Herd”.

Like, imagine your Eternal Scourge dies in combat rather than being exiled by being targeted by removal… The fact that this deck plays Relic of Progenitus means Mackie can set it up to buy back even when it goes to the graveyard per normal!

The card is actually just great against almost anything that relies on point removal to control the board. A Blood Moon board control deck will often play many, many turns. Eternal Scourge helps Skred Red stall into those long games and gives it a reasonably large — even inevitable — threat that can actually win the game, given sufficient time.

Check out our take on even more of the Dallas Modern metagame in “Is Skred Red a Prison Deck?”:

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Gearhulk or Grafwidow?

Verdurous Gearhulk
Should Verdurous Gearhulk unseat Ishkanah, Grafwidow at the Delirium five?

One of the three principal decks of Kaladesh Standard is B/G Delirium. There are at least two versions: Although they have a fair number of cards in common — Traverse the Ulvenwald; Grasp of Darkness; or Liliana, the Last Hope — the two builds have very different strategies and play patterns, and try to accomplish different things.

The incumbent version is more midrange. It is more likely to play both offense and defense at the same time with Sylvan Advocate. It might block with Ishkanah, Grafwidow in order to buy time to find a bullet Emrakul, the Promised End.

The newer version — tracing back to Eric Froehlich at Pro Tour Kaladesh — is more offensive. It plays Servant of the Conduit to get the jump on the opponent and is more likely to buff with Blossoming Defense than trade one-for-one with removal or disruption (though it might).

The case for Ishkanah, Grafwidow

Ishkanah, Grafwidow is a powerful card. We’ve seen it played in Temur decks that could never tap for black mana!

If you want to play a card that will help lock down the battlefield, there are few better options in Standard. Given time, it can cut down the opponent’s life total without having to risk combmat. Because it has reach, Ishkanah can help contain cards like Spell Queller or Archangel Avacyn. Because it has so many bodies, Ishkanah can act as a “go wide” stop sign to buy vital setup and stabilization time against beatdown.

The case for Verdurous Gearhulk

If you want to race or brawl, choose Verdurous Gearhulk. In the right context, Verdurous Gearhulk simply out-classes Ishkanah heads up. It will often be competitive (especially depending on what creature gets +1/+1 counters) but is always better when the opponent doesn’t yet have Delirium. Here, Servant of the Conduit and Catacomb Sifter help cast the Gearhulk ahead of time, and something to attack with.

For sure the best playmate to Verduous Gearhulk is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Talk about big life swings! (Also Kalitas auto-ruins the lives of many opponents, e.g. B/R Zombies.)

Bonus: Using Traverse the Ulvenwald

Traverse the Ulvenwald is one of the most flexible cards in Standard. It is generally great for fixing your land draw on turn one, but cashing in for a real threat later in the game. Traverse the Ulvenwald is so effective for its cost it has even started to see adoption in Modern creature decks!

In the traditional Delirium strategies, you could Traverse on turn one (and the mana bases deliberately accommodate for having an extra few lands by playing only 23)… But once you have Delirium it can get an Ishkanah late, or a [generally singleton] Noxious Gearhulk as a point removal-type answer, or go super big with Emrakul.

In the EFro version, though, Traverse the Ulvenwald is more a way to get Delirium! The aggro version simply doesn’t have many sorceries, so a cheap [one mana] way to get a sorcery into the graveyard puts the deck 25% of the way to its namesake. Traverse the Ulvenwald is therefore generally less powerful and flexible in the aggro version of Delirium, but that might make sense, given that the games are shorter by design.

Listen now for more on B/G Delirium and a host of other Standard topics:

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How NOT to Deal with a Prized Amalgam

Prized Amalgam
Prized Amalgam is centerpiece to some of the best decks in Modern AND Standard both

Prized Amalgam in Modern

We begin with Patrick trying to talk Mike off the Inspiring Vantage cliff for Modern.

Yes, Inspiring Vantage goes straight into Mike’s Burn deck… But Patrick’s argument is that Burn sucks. Part of the reason is that one of the most successful Prized Amalgam decks can “dredge” its way into Gnaw to the Bone, effectively countering many, many burn spells.

And what if a Dredge player sideboards in Collective Brutality?

Can you imagine a second turn of killing poor Mike’s Goblin Guide AND taking his Skullcrack AND getting him for a four-life swing… While discarding Prized Amalgam and Stinkweed Imp (which is what he wants to do anyway)?

Mike will have gotten what he deserved in our estimation, you know, for playing Burn; especially since the Inspiring Vantage version doesn’t even play Atarka’s Command (further reducing the deck’s resistance to Gnaw to the Bone).

Prized Amalgam versus Void Shatter

We move to the Zombie in Standard.

Over two Standard Grand Prix, Top 8s were dominated by U/W Flash and Boros / Mardu Vehicles decks… The lone exception was one Zombie Madness deck… Featuring four copies of Prized Amalgam.

Here’s the thing — Prized Amalgam costs 1UB. One BLUE Black. The deck doesn’t even have blue mana! It can’t cast Prized Amalgam, only kill you with it.

Cathartic Reunion, Insolent Neonate, Cryptbreaker, new superstar Smuggler’s Copter, and even Lightning Axe put Prized Amalgam into the graveyard for you; from there Haunted Dead and Scrapheap Scrounger are waiting to put it directly into play. B/R is a beatdown deck that starts off on turn one, gets in there flying-Watchwolf-Looter-style, puts plenty of pressure on you… But has a tremendous graveyard-driven value engine too. You can’t deal with it like a straightforward beatdown deck or it will bury you; you can’t sleep on Voldaren Pariah.

This deck is inevitable.

This deck is deceptively card advantageous.

What’s the point of playing Void Shatter if you can never actually Counterspell the Zombie in question?

More Modern, more Standard, and (we hope) an answer or two in “How NOT to Deal with a Prized Amalgam”:

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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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