Mastering Liliana’s Mastery

Liliana's Mastery
Liliana’s Mastery was center stage for the Top 8 of Pro Tour Amonkhet

How many copies of Liliana’s Mastery are you supposed to play?

This is an interesting question to be sure!

Pro Tour Amonkhet winner Gerry Thompson (shout out to @g3rryt) played three copies in his mono-black Zombies deck.

You can certainly defend the Mastery as a three-of (“If Gerry did it, it was right.” -Patrick), but there are some pros and cons to this decision. The Zombies archetype would certainly play fewer than twenty-four lands if it didn’t have a five drop at the top of the curve… Does it make sense, ultimately, to cut a copy?

How about two?

First-time Top 8 competitor (and onetime Top 8 Magic Mockvitational winner) Christian Calcano (shout out to @CCalcano) cut another! Christian’s deck was very similar to Gerry’s, just trading one Liliana’s Mastery for an additional fast removal spell.

On the other hand, the black-white version played all four copies (at the cost of a couple of two drops).

So what is the right number?

If you think Zombies is the ascendent archetype (it did just win the PT) you may want to play all four copies. To be fair, even two-of Calcano ran the other two Liliana’s Masteries in his sideboard.

Liliana’s Mastery is an Asymmetrical Crusade

It’s not just a Crusade, it’s a Grizzly Fate. It’s a giant, spread across multiple bodies.

For five mana, you get two 2/2 Zombies… But they are automatically 3/3 by default due to the enchantment itself. It’s cool, especially in a mirror, to make all your Zombies bigger, but that’s not all.

At the point that you are hitting five drops, you really just want to draw more and more of this thing. You get card advantage two-for-one and all your Zombies get bigger and bigger, snowballing the advantage.

Liliana’s Mastery Killed Verdurous Gearhulk

Poor Verdurus Gearhulk.

Not long ago it was the huge five-drop of choice, kicking Ishkanah out of B/G top ends. It could be a big body itself, or it could spread value across multiple bodies. Especially with Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk could create an immediate and compelling swing.

Liliana’s Mastery just does the same thing, better.

Same cost, similar impact.

Except when it isn’t.

The Gearhulk is 8/8 on the low end whereas the Mastery is “only” 6/6… But the Mastery is across two different bodies. It can also potentially spread even more damage, depending on how many Zombies you already have.

And if you are B/W?

It is great with both Binding Mummy and Wayward Servant, creating multiple triggers even as it buffs the two-drop.

Check out mad strategies for both Zombies and Marvel in “Mastering Liliana’s Mastery”

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Getting Familiar with Kefnet the Mindful

Kefnet the Mindful
Kefnet the Mindful rewards familiarity with common play patterns

Amonkhet Gods versus Theros Gods

WotC R&D did a great job of echoing the aesthetics of the Theros gods with cards like Kefnet the Mindful. For example, Kefnet shares a casting cost with Thassa, God of the Sea. Both creatures are indestructible. Both require special conditions before they can attack or block.

Unlike their Theros cousins, Amonkhet Gods start off as creatures. Even if Kefnet the Mindful can’t attack or block, it can, say, crew a Heart of Kiran. While that is pretty good (Thassa is just an enchantment before you have sufficient devotion to blue), it also exposes Kefnet to interaction.

“Indestructible” isn’t as Indestructible as it Used to be

Amonkhet provides all kinds of ways to interact with an indestructible creature like Kefnet the Mindful. Even the new cycling islands like Irrigated Farmland and Fetid Pools have reawakened the incentive to play Engulf the Shores. So while vanilla damage might not be able to kill Kefnet, your opponents may well have tools. For example:

Cast Out – Cast Out can handle any type of permanent. Being indestructible doesn’t protect Kefnet from being exiled.

Commit // Memory – Bounce-type spells are great against Kefnet. Not that they are so much better against Kefnet than other creatures, but a card like Commit // Memory ignores one of the main features of the card that you are paying for.

Oath of Liliana – Perhaps most depressing, the opponent can just lay an Oath of Liliana, killing a Kefnet that is theoretically indestructible, even if it isn’t primed to attack or block yet.

Kefnet the Mindful’s Mental Shortcuts

The rules of engagement have changed dramatically with the introduction of Amonkhet to Standard. For example having one mana open means something very different than it did a few months back. You can cycle a Censor… or pay for a Censor. Or (especially in sideboard games) you can cast a Dispel.

Kefnet the Mindful by itself implies a surprising number of tactical play patterns. Check out these…

If you have only four cards in hand at the end of the opponent’s turn, you can attack even if you are tapped out.
When you untap, you go from four cards to five. Activate Kefnet once, return a land to your hand, and you are already at seven. Get in there!

If the opponent has exactly seven cards in hand, cast your test spell before he attacks
If he counters it, he will go below seven cards in hand, and will be unable to attack.

You don’t have to choose whether you want to pick up a land until after the card draw resolves
This is a generally good thing to know, but is particularly awesome if you have six mana and want to be able to cast a three mana Counterspell. Tap four mana to draw a card; if it is a land that comes into play untapped, play it and you will be able to Cancel. If you don’t draw one, though, you can pick up and re-play one of your other lands to get there!

Sound interesting? This episode also features more Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, and all manner of control decks. Give “Getting Familiar with Kefnet the Mindful” a listen now:

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Breaking Glory-Bound Initiate

Glory-Bound Initiate

“Build your own Baneslayer Angel” with Glory-Bound Initiate

Glory-Bound Initiate is making an immediate impact on Standard. A 3/1 creature for only two mana, even the “vanilla” mode on this card can prove a fast clock. That’s a heck of a fail state!

When you actually exert Glory-Bound Initiate, things get interesting. As a 4/4 lifelink creature, Glory-Bound Initiate is a potentially great racer. It is tactically quite layered. The card is well named: You tend to have the initiative with it in play.

Will you send a 3/1?

How many creatures does he have to hold back if you exert in a 4/4 lifelink?

Subtly, this card on two gives you an incentive to build around the exert mechanic.

Always Watching is great with any exert creatures. With Glory-Bound Initiate, you get to “build your own Baneslayer Angel” … Even attacking for five on turn three!

  • Glory-Bound Initiate is a 3/1 on turn two.
  • Always Watching makes it 4/2 as a base.
  • When you attack — and exert — the Initiate becomes a 5/5 with vigilance!
  • Since it never actually taps (due to vigilance) there is no liability around Exert and the untap.

While Zach’s build only has one exert creature main deck, it is a go-wide strategy that can still benefit from Always Watching. Plus, he has a heck of another exert guy in the sideboard.

Glory-Bound Initiate is Only Human

Glory-Bound Initiate is a human warrior. Played with other humans, this card is really effective with Thalia’s Lieutenant. In addition to white creatures, Zach proved ingenius with his inclusion of red main deck.

All the humans — from Expedition Envoy forward — are great with Thalia’s Lieutenant. Hanweir Garrison, though, can trigger it multiple times per turn.

The sideboard is outstanding

Three fours. One three. Perfect.

Zach played four Needle Spires in the sideboard; consequently, he could support four Glorybringer and four Gideon, Ally of Zendikar! His sideboard actually allowed Zach to transform into more of a powerhouse midrange deck (from his fast start White Weenie main deck).

Embrace Variance

Patrick released a new song on YouTube this week. You can listen to the full song as the outro to this podcast, or just check it out here:

Listen now:

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Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo

Anointed Procession
It might not look it at first glance, but Anointed Procession is going to enable infinite everything.

Sensei’s Diving Top – Banned in Legacy!

“Sensei’s Divining Top gets no hat tip from me. There are very few cards — probably zero in the history of Magic — that have cost as many human lifetimes as Sensei’s Divining Top.”
-Patrick Chapin

Patrick and MichaelJ open on a tearful* goodbye to Sensei’s Divining Top. While the Top has drawn some bad press due to eating up the clock in recent years, there is no denying its contribution to a number of impossibly inventive decks. Cards from Kodama’s Reach to Shrapnel Blast to Counterbalance have all reached the top of the metagame.

Speaking of Banned Cards…

What will be obvious to you listening to this podcast is that the boys recorded “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” before this week’s last minute addendum to the Banned and Restricted list.

So yes, Patrick does a little Felidar Guardian + Liliana brewing… But there are still lots of other great nuggets in this episode (we think).

For instance:

Going Infinite with Anointed Procession

Anointed Procession + Eldrazi Displacer + Drowner of Hope is an infinite combo.

How does this work?

With Anointed Procession on the battlefield, Drowner of Hope will make four 1/1 tokens rather than just two.

It costs three total mana to activate Eldrazi Displacer; three mana will blink Drowner of Hope, putting the aforementioned four tokens into play. That means that you can net one token per cycle (again assuming Anointed Procession is there).

This combination gives you as many Icy Manipulators as you would like… Except they can also attack for infinite damage.

The advantage of this combination is that Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope are actually “good cards” rather than just combination pieces. After all, even if Anointed Procession is not part of your equation, Drowner of Hope is seven power across three bodies for “just” six mana.

Even without the Eldrazi, Anointed Procession is a surprisingly effective card.

How interested would you be in Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into this enchantment? Making two 0/1 Plant tokens per activation seems like a heck of a defense. How about good old Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Anointed Procession at the same time? Did the best card of the previous format get even better?

We shall see!

Put another way, if your deck is full of token makers, Anointed Procession will increase the impact of one and all.

No, this podcast is not mostly about this cool new combo. There is also Patrick’s argument that Zombies will be Tier One, Mike’s continued love of cycling, and of course some misplaced metagaming around Felidar Guardian.

Give “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” a listen now:

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* Okay maybe not that tearful in Patrick’s case.

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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Your Hosts:

Special Guest Craig Wescoe – @brimaz4life

Patrick Chapin – @thepchapin
Mike Flores – @fivewithflores