Wild About Wilderness Reclamation

Wilderness Reclamation
“[Wilderness Reclamation] is not an okay card.” -Patrick

Wilderness Reclamation “doesn’t seem close”

The task seems to be figuring out cards that are good with Wilderness Reclamation. The card looks to be a slam dunk. We’ll walk through some basics on this card, then get to some of the historical comparisons.

Let’s start with Growth Spiral. Growth Spiral allows you to play Wilderness Reclamation on turn three. That’s great by itself.

You can’t normally just tap out for a four mana do-nothing and expect to live through the next few turns, but Wilderness Reclamation will untap your lands on your own end step. Depending on your other colors, you will be able to defend yourself with anything from Fog variants to Settle the Wreckage for the turn.

Turn five (or turn four with Growth Spiral) starts getting really interesting.

You can open up by playing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. You do the whole “draw a card” thing with Teferi, then move to your end step. Teferi will untap two lands. Wilderness Reclamation will tap all five. Put one effect on the stack, tap Teferi’s bounty in response, and you’ll have access to seven.

You know: For Nexus of Fate.

“Let me get this right,” says the babe in the woods. “It’s turn four and I have both this and Teferi in play… Plus I’ve just hit a recurring Time Walk?”

“Yes,” replies the Hand of Fate.

“How quickly can I sign up for your Bant Newsletter?”

You don’t even have to play Teferi, or white at all. This card works just fine and dandy with Nexus of Fate with or without Teferi, and untapping all your lands every turn is hyper synergistic with Search for Azcanta.

How Might We Properly Gauge Wilderness Reclamation?

One of the things that’s great about this card is that, in addition to being able to spitball a cool two-three-four sequence with Teferis and Time Walks… We can just compare it to things we know have already performed.

Compare it to Thran Dynamo.

Thran Dynamo cost four mana and gave you three back immediately. Presuming your mana is all coming from lands, Wilderness Reclamation is generally — and immediately — just better. Rather than colorless mana, you get colored mana back. Rather than just three, you get four (or more). Even better, you get more and more mana over time assuming you hit your land drops.

Ditto on Gilded Lotus. Rather than paying five up front, you only have to pay four. Again, Wilderness Reclamation will generally give you more mana than the celebrated Lotus; and pay you more and more mana over time.

The Best of the Rest

  • Theater of Horrors – Looking for an alternate engine? As long as you’re aggressive, this card is generally better than Phyrexian Arena
  • Basilica Bell-Haunt – Mike comes completely around on this card. Patrick has him comparing it to Loxodon Hierarch and Siege Rhino. Synergies with The Eldest Reborn push the Bell-Haunt over the finish line.
  • Shimmer of Possibility – Impulse at sorcery speed… Not great but good at finding Wilderness Reclamation!
  • Pteramander – Solid deal for one mana.

Lots more in the podcast proper. Give it a listen!

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The Beginning and End of Angel of Grace

Angel of Grace
Angel of Grace is the Beginning… But Will Often be THE END

Angel of Grace is card #1 for Ravnica Allegiance; so… The Beginning. But it will often be the end (of the game). This Angel is an extremely powerful threat creature. Let’s check out how:

Angel of Grace has both Flash and Flying

A 5/4 flyer with flash for 3WW is no joke. With no other abilities, it would still be a consideration to play. Having flash gives this creature some important tactical advantages. Here are some examples:

  • You can double up big threats against a permission deck. Test spell them with Angel of Grace; waltz it into an Essence Scatter, but then resolve your Lyra Dawnbringer the next turn.
  • Take advantage of your opponent’s Teferi window: A common play pattern will be to tap out for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and then draw a card. U/W players will have at least two open lands for your next turn. Usually this will mean some amount of defense, especially if they just drew Essence Scatter with their Teferi. But with this flashy Angel, you can resolve a big 5/4 before their two lands untap. Even better, you’ll be able to attack with it, not just resolve it!
  • In general, any “threat” deck can put pressure on the opponent — whether it’s with Knights, tokens, or whatever — forcing them to cast Cleansing Nova. With Angel of Grace, you just have an instant speed window to resolve a big beater, to keep on the pressure the next turn, while the opponent is tapped out for their sweeper.

Did you say “Angel’s Grace”?

“When Angel of Grace enters the battlefield, until end of turn, damage that would reduce your life total to less than 1 reduces it to 1 instead.”

This card is obviously a little punny.

It doesn’t have Split Second (or some of the other clauses of the original instant) but this middle ability will certainly come up. It can undo a lethal attack, many combo kills, etc.

Oh, and the opponent still has to deal with your 5/4.

4WW, Exile Angel of Grace from your graveyard: Your life total becomes 10.

Like we said, we’d consider Angel of Grace without these last two abilities. This one is in particular free. You can dump the Angel for free with Search for Azcanta, or get some free value from Explore guys like Jadelight Ranger or Merfolk Branchwalker.

Regardless of how you get your Angel into the graveyard, this last clause can make your opponent miserable. You can activate the ability at instant speed. It’s not a spell so your opponent can’t Negate it. On top of all that… The card itself is on the bonus; you’re not using a card in hand or creature in play to adjust your life total.

Least important block of text? Maybe. But it’s still there, and will contribute to the success that this card can help contribute, from tournament number one.

Check out even more Ravnica Allegiance discussion here:

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Exclusive Preview: Zhur-Taa Goblin

Zhur-Taa Goblin
Zhur-Taa Goblin is kind of a Rip-Clan Crasher // Watchwolf split card.

Zhur-Taa Goblin is strictly superior to Rip-Clan Crasher

Rip-Clan Crasher
Rip-Clan Crasher

Rip-Clan Crasher was never a super successful Constructed card. It was fringe in Alara Block Constructed. Playable, sure; but fringe. However Rip-Clan Crasher shared not only a Block, but a color combination, with Bloodbraid Elf.

While few players would choose Rip-Clan Crasher, when you play Zhur-Taa Goblin… You kind of get the option for a Rip-Clan Crasher for free. Need a hasty creature to deal the last two points of damage? Smell the stink of a Lava Coil on your opponent and want to get some damage in before that sorcery blazes up your cardboard? Staring down a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that’s about to hit his limit break? Zhur-Taa Goblin in Rip-Clan Crasher mode will serve you well in its smaller, faster, form. On the other hand…

It’s ALSO generally better than Watchwolf

Watchwolf
Watchwolf

Watchwolf was a tournament Staple in its [original Ravnica: City of Guilds] era.

Likely, Watchwolf would be good enough to play today, as well!

The “big” version of Zhur-Taa Goblin isn’t a direct translation to Watchwolf (Selesnya mana versus Gruul, straight 3/3 versus 2/2 with a +1/+1 counter)… But it’s not only close, the comparisons tend to favor the Gruul version. For one thing, red tends to get smaller creatures than white, or at least have to work a little harder for them. Consider Watchwolf’s Gruul contemporary, Scab-Clan Mauler:

Scab-Clan Mauler
Scab-Clan Mauler

The Gruul Staple had to bruise the opponent some for its 3/3, instead of living the Hill Giant life on easy mode like Watchwolf. That Zhur-Taa Goblin has a 3/3 mode “for free” is a huge plus for the card. But it’s not just a 3/3… It’s a 2/2 with a +1/+1 counter. That’s generally better than a straight 3/3 due to additional synergies. We haven’t seen all the available cards from Ravnica Allegiance, but it’s not out of the question that some +1/+1 synergy along the lines of Hardened Scales might not, um, tip the scales in favor of this card.

We guess the 3/3 mode will be more popular, but there are many cases where you’ll want to sneak in damage quickly, finish off a Planeswalker, or avoid sorcery speed removal. The hasty mode is great for all that.

As such, we expect Zhur-Taa Goblin to be playable in Standard, and have some ideas for Goblin deck mana bases, and brew up some potential homes for hasty Rioters. Check all that out in this bonus episode!

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Dovin, Grand Arbiter Headlines More Ravnica Allegiance

Dovin, Grand Arbiter
Dovin, Grand Arbiter

[+1]: Until end of turn, whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, put a loyalty counter on Dovin, Grand Arbiter.

Imagine you open on any one mana creature; or even a creature token of some sort… Let’s say Legion’s Landing.

And then, imagine we make two guys on turn two… In other formats there are more attractive white options; but because we’re just pretending right now, let’s say you get two bodies online with Goblin Instigator

Now on turn three, you play Dovin and go [+1]. Dovin’s base loyalty is three. When you plus, it goes to four. Now you attack with all three guys. For one thing, yes, your Legion’s Landing will flip. But what about your Planeswalker?

That’s right friend: 4 becomes 7, and out of nowhere, Dovin is already ready for Ultimate!

[-1]: Create a 1/1 colorless Thopter artifact creature token with flying. You gain 1 life.

While less synergistic than abilities one and three, this might be Dovin’s most important.

You get a body. That means that if you didn’t have another one already, this will give you a catalyst for that lethal [+1]. It’s also a blocker. One measure of a Planeswalker is just how well it defends itself. Well, now this one can defend itself for at least a turn or so.

The Thopters are artifacts, and therefore friendly with Karn. Likely there is a proactive control deck for Standard that will want both these Planeswalkers.

On the simpler side, you can lead up with an AJani’s Pridemate. Now the [-1] will add two power, not one. One 1/1 flyer and one +1/+1 counter.

[-7]: Look at the top ten cards of your library. Put three of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Okay, back to seven. How easy was that?

The cool thing about this card is not just that it’s so easy to get to seven, but that seven doesn’t come only once. Imagine we had a more realistic mana situation and ran an Ajani’s Pridemate on turn two. You wouldn’t be able to go Ultimate on turn three. That’s okay, though. Going to 6 loyalty isn’t the worst; it implies you’ll go over seven next turn. That means getting to use this Ultimate more than once.

Dovin’s [-7] seems great but isn’t really the kind of Ultimate that wins the game immediately. Good thing it lines up for multiple uses!

Dovin might be first this week, but he’s not alone! Check out this week’s podcast to hear about more Planeswalkers, more gold cards, and more quick plays, generally; all from Ravnica Allegiance.

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The Most Exciting Spoilers from Ravnica Allegiance

Apologies for being up a little later than usual this week; we hope you love our further discussion of Ravnica Allegiance.

Patrick’s Pick from Ravnica Allegiance So Far: Bedevil

Bedevil

Both Top Level Podcasts hosts think this is going to be a great card for Standard. It’s essentially a more flexible Hero’s Downfall… Same total casting cost, but you do have to replace one generic mana with a red pip. On the other hand, there is little spicier than getting an opponent that just tapped out for The Immortal Sun with a card you just happened to have in your main deck.

Bedevil will probably also be good in Modern! Hero’s Downfall is played in Modern and this one is a substantial upgrade, so long as you can cast it. Dreadbore always did what you wanted, but was slow. Bedevil, even for another mana, is better friends with Snapcaster Mage. It’s also just another nice option to help you bust out of a Lantern lock.

Two thumbs up.

Michael’s Pick from Ravnica Allegiance So Far: Absorb

Absorb

Patrick starts off a little incredulous. How much better is Absorb than Sinister Sabotage? There is also a little tension between the W in Absorb and the aggressive requirements to play Niv-Mizzet.

Mike retorts that people are already bending over backwards to gain three life. Absorb doesn’t cost them a deck building slot, and doesn’t cost any more mana. While it might not be the most appropriate for the 4x Niv-Mizzet decks, Absorb seems like it would get along well in the Chemister’s Insight ones.

Plus… The part of Mike that likes to cast Rekindling Phoenix and Goblin Chainwhirler is absolutely terrified of this reprint!

More from Ravnica Allegiance:

  • Emergency Powers – Mike loves the Addendum mechanic, but neither of our hosts is necessarily a buyer of Emergency Powers. Mike recounts historical implementations of “we both draw seven” cards… Which have been mostly full of cheap cards. When will you get paid off? Patrick counters, though: River’s Rebuke.
  • Sphinx’s Insight – Again, neither host likes this card more than Chemister’s Insight. No one is interested in the prospect of casting “Inspiratin” main phase; and if you’re casting this during the opponent’s end step, it is way — way — worse than Chemister’s Insight.
  • Gruul Spellbreaker – Not that much worse than a Woolly Thoctar when it’s big… Lots of a Boggart Ram-Gang. Mike has been in for both at various times of his deck design career.

    Gruul Spellbreaker

    Not for nothing – This card turns the eff off of Settle the Wreckage.

  • Light Up the Stage – This card is substantially better than we — at least Mike — originally thought. Shout out to J Mazz on Twitter for setting him straight!

    Since Light Up the Stage is live until the end of your next turn, the downside is not so bad. It’s really only when you play your third land, tap out, and exile two lands that this is substantially worse than a “red Divination” … Obviously much better in almost every other circumstance. Mike now toying with it for Modern…

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Growth Spiral and Our First Look at Ravnica Allegiance

Growth Spiral
Growth Spiral is one of the strongest Ravnica Allegiance cards we’ve seen so far

Ravnica Allegiance Spoilers Are Upon Us!

We go over some of the new mechanics from Ravnica Allegiance, including…

  • Afterlife – Or, the one where you make a 1/1 flyer when your dude dies
  • Spectacle – Or, the one where you can pay a different cost for your dude as long as you’ve done some damage this turn

Spectacle in particular can go a couple of different ways. For example, Light Up the Stage discounts a “red Divination” from 2R to R. Some costs get more expensive (but give you more oomph). For instance Rix Maadi Reveler is a 2/2 for 1R. Its spectacle cost is actually higher at 2BR… But you get up to three times the card advantage.

Is that worth a splash of black?

But for now… We think it’s Growth Spiral!

There are some big clunky threats.

There are some cards that might be relevant (but might either be too much work or just too expensive).

And then there is Growth Spiral…

As an “instant speed Explore” we expect this card to be a paradigm shifter for decks that can cast it. They can hold back for Essence Scatter or Syncopate on turn two… But if the opponent doesn’t walk into their permission, they can go straight to four on turn three.

Oh, and it draws a card!

Check it out in this week’s podcast:

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Everything You Could Ever Want to Know About Arclight Phoenix in Modern

Arclight Phoenix
Arclight Phoenix is one of the best creatures in Modern

Crackling Drake + Arclight Phoenix… In Modern?

Arclight Phoenix has contributed to many Modern builds already, despite a relatively short lifetime. It’s been a Delver of Secrets add-on. It closes out games for the Mono-Red deck. And of course the centerpiece of a cantrips-rich Izzet strategy.

What might surprise you is seeing Arclight Phoenix next to Standard Staple Crackling Drake!

Crackling Drake is of course capable of enormous power. The Izzet decks are heavily instants and sorceries, most of which are cantrips that replace themselves… With more cantrips.

But did you know that Surgical Extraction can play Giant Growth in this strategy?

You can Surgical Extraction your own instant. This will not only put an additional instant or sorcery into your graveyard (the Surgical Extraction)… But you can search your library for up to three more copies of the targeted card. Because Crackling Drake feasts on cards in exile as well as the graveyard, Surgical Extraction can serve as a powerful pump trick.

Subtly, Crackling Drake also serves as some defense against Rest in Peace. Rest in Peace, Leyline of the Void, etc. can blunt the efficacy of your Phoenixes and flashback cards… But Crackling Drake is okay with its food being exiled. You don’t want-want to play against some of these cards, but the Drake does give you a bit of protection.

What about Gut Shot + Arclight Phoenix?

Gut Shot is kind of a narrow card. But when you play four copies of Faithless Looting, you can kind of play more conditional cards. If Gut Shot isn’t good… You can always get rid of it.

But that said, Gut Shot is very productive for launching Phoenixes on turn two.

Imagine you play a first turn Faithless Looting, discarding double Phoenix.

On turn two, you can plausibly play a Thought Scour, a Sleight of Hand, and then finish the play with a zero mana Gut Shot. Take seven!

If nothing else, Gut Shot can team up with Lightning Bolt to take out four toughness creatures.

Arclight Phoenix and the Kitchen Sink

… Because if it’s Modern, we talk about it this week. Tons of commentary on land selection, the viability of midrange decks, and just how good Spellstutter Sprite can be. Check it out:

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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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