Meet the Rivals of Ixalan

Rivals of Ixalan Brings a New Vraska

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon

A new Vraska? Yes.

A very good Vraska? The Scheming Gorgon is going to have a tough time competing with the Relic Seeker in Standard.

Seemingly the only advantage Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has over Vraska, Relic Seeker is in being mono-black. Vraska Scheming Gorgon’s best ability is her [-3] to destroy target creature…

This ability is woefully weaker than Vraska, Relic Seeker’s more flexible equivalent… That also produces Treasure.

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has a potentially powerful [-10] ultimate ability… At least until you think about it for a minute. While this ability can theoretically win the game, practically speaking, you already have to have a substantial advantage to cash in.

You need to have gained loyalty for several turns without losing all your creatures.

You need to have more creatures than the opponent has creatures AND creature removal.

But if you can fulfill these conditions? Sure. Win the game.

Vraska and Angrath: Are They Rivals of Ixalan?

Angrath, Minotaur Pirate
Angrath, Minotaur Pirate

In opposition to Vraska is Angrath, a Minotaur Pirate.

While Angrath may not be the strongest Planeswalker in Standard, Mike thinks it is a straight-up upgrade relative to Vraska, Scheming Gorgon.

For one, Mike could at least imagine using the [+2] ability, and can imagine wanting to play this card to do so!

Say you are up against Mono-White Vampires or B/W Tokens. Wouldn’t you appreciate a recurring way to deal one damage to everything and everyone on the other side of the table? While gaining loyalty?

Mike is pretty “sign me up” for this as a sideboard card, but Patrick not only reserves ultimate judgment for now… He says that if Mike likes this card, he’ll probably LOVE the main set equivalent its existence implies.

Nitpick point: Angrath claims to be a Minotaur PIRATE (even says so in the name) but could not theoretically target itself with that [-3].

The Primal Command of Rivals of Ixalan?

One of the cool features of the beginner Planeswalker decks is the existence of a Tutor to go find a deck’s centerpiece character.

Mike doesn’t hate this one:



Angrath’s Fury
Mike compares it to Primal Command.

Is hie crazy?

Both cards cost five. Both cards affect life total and do multiple things; Primal Command often attacked a land; Angrath’s Fury basically always kills a creature.

Okay, okay: Crazy

Patrick and Mike also chat decks past and present, and visit a successful Standard deck… That eschews Longtusk Cub despite running Attune with Aether.

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Cryptic Command is Good in All of the Spots

Cryptic Command
Every card in your deck has purpose some of the time; Cryptic Command is the card that is the best, the most.

Welcome Back to Modern, Cryptic Command!

One of the most successful [new-ish] decks in Modern is Jeskai Control.

This archetype, featuring Search for Azcanta from Ixalan has reinvigorated pure control in the format.

Seminal to this strategy is the power of Search for Azcanta to flip into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. In its mana-mode, this card implies the availability of four mana. You can leave up four, and threaten Cryptic Command. If you don’t have to use the Cryptic Command, you have four lands to go find it.

Former US National Champion Ali Aintrazi played a version at a recent StarCityGames event, moving up to Nahiri, the Harbinger and Torrential Gearhulk as his late game heavy-handed threats.

Nahiri is particularly exciting in this archetype. She can discard cards to help flip Search for Azcanta, and will dig you to a big Torrential Gearhulk.

Also decks WITHOUT Cryptic Command

In the spirit of gearing Mike up for the upcoming #SCGInvi in Roanoke, Virigina, our intrepid duo goes over all kinds of decks beyond the soaring Jeskai Control…

  • Storm Combo – ever thought about playing Runed Halo on “Gifts Ungiven”?
  • Humans – now featuring “colorless” spells like Dismember!
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow – including all the one-ofs, spice, and strategies
  • Jund – with Hazoret the Fervent!
  • (and lots more)

When do you play FOUR copies of Cryptic Command?

  • Whenever it’s right!
  • … and half the time, when it’s not 😉

Check out this meditation on Modern now!

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Tetzimoc, Primal Death and the Rivals of Ixalan

Tetzimoc, Primal Death
Tetzimoc, Primal Death is a Legendary Creature – Elder Dinosaur

“God I hope this isn’t a Standard format where this isn’t good.”
-Patrick

Tetzimoc, Primal Death Invalidates “real” cards

This Legendary Creature – Elder Dinosaur almost doesn’t seem real.

Will there be efficient ways to get rid of prey counters? If not, Tetzimoc is going to act as a Plague Wind — a one-way Wrath of God — quite often.

What is the low end of Tetzimoc’s performance? Double Nekrataal? Just a couple of life points off of Noxious Gearhulk? It seems really powerful either way.

In any case, Tetzimoc leaves a large body with deathtouch on the battlefield. It provides not just a high potential for card advantage, but advances your board at the same time.

It is conceivable, unfortunately, that Tetzimoc will not be good. How could that be?

This creature is great against regular creatures, if even very good, efficient, or huge versions. It would be much less effective in a format based on Energy 187 creatures like Rogue Refiner, nothing but haste, or combo decks.

Tetzimoc is not the only Elder Dinosaur…

Ghalta, Primal Hunger
If you are unsure of the most broken thing you can possibly do with Ghalta, Primal Hunger, what about just starting on a Regisaur Alpha? That costs five mana and puts seven power in play. Seven down leaves Ghalta eminently cast-able.

Imagine this with haste!

On the one hand, Ghalta, Primal Hunger is an exceptional reason for Dinosaurs to finally graduate to Tier One in Standard.

But not for nothing… Decks based around the Primal Hunger are going to get their lunch eaten by decks based on the Primal Death, if you grok.

But Wait, There’s More!

This week we hit all five currently spoiled Rivals of Ixalan cards, not just the Dinosaurs.

Ever wanted to learn about the nuances between personal Mana Flare and personal Howling Mine? Check out “Tetzimoc, Primal Death and the Rivals of Ixalan” right now!

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Very Cryptic Command

Did you see this earlier this week?

Our #mtgunstable Exclusive Preview will drop Friday. Double casts this week, etc

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If you did — this podcast will be the realization of all you’ve been waiting for!

If you didn’t… Why aren’t you following the Top Level Podcast Instagram yet? Go ahead. We’ll wait up.

Back?

It’s time for our…

Exclusive Preview: Very Cryptic Command!

Very Cryptic Command

It’s Kind of Like a Cryptic Command

The “Very” variety is reminiscent of the classic in many ways.

  • It is a Command (and in fact, a “Cryptic” one).
  • As such, it has several modes, and asks you to choose two of them.
  • And of course, there is the UUU1 in the top-right corner

But in terms of game play? This is a whole other instant!

Well that’s one way to do it…

Isn’t it weird that an Un-set card — ostensibly built for fun rather than Spikes — is primarily geared towards making:

  • Infinite mana, and
  • Infinite storm count

Isn’t it?

Right?

If you have two copies of Gilded Lotus and two copies of this instant you can tap for UUUUUU, cast Very Cryptic Command to untap the artifacts and re-buy your other Very Cryptic Command.

Then you can do this all you want, over and over again.

Welcome to having as much mana as you want! Eventually, you can use one of the other modes to do anything else, move ahead (and presumably take advantage of your limitless mana and storm count).

Fun… For you, at least!

Our thoughts on this most Unstable of Unstable cards in “Very Cryptic Command”

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Masterfully Metagaming Sand Strangler

Sand Strangler
Sand Strangler Graduates to Main Deck!
Stephen King said it.

William Faulkner said it first.

Kill. Your. Darlings.

Which darlings, you ask.

How about the automatic three-of (if not four-of) at the Ramunap Red four? Hazoret the Fervent.

Cut Hazoret? Are you crazy?

Hazoret the Fervent versus Whirler Virtuoso

As a red mage, have you ever faced off against Whirler Virtuoso? If you haven’t, it sucks. It’s just really hard to bust through, even though you have one of the best offensive threats in the format.

Now imagine — assuming sufficient Desert power — Sand Strangler against Whirler Virtuoso.

Smoosh, right? Smoosh.

When essentially half of the format is Energy decks, Sand Strangler over Hazoret main deck starts to make more sense.

Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark executed on exactly this plan, finishing in the finals of Grand Prix Atlanta with a new look at Ramunap Ruins.

For reference:
Desert Red, by Ben Stark

Wait a minute! Don’t I just suck in the mirror now?

While cutting Hazoret — one of the most important cards in the mirror match — certainly costs you percentage in the mirror, Ben counterbalanced with the duo of Sand Strangler and Glorybringer.

Remember: Sand Strangler and Glorybringer are two of the most frequently sided in cards in Red Deck mirrors.

So while you lose some Hazoret points, you get back some “free” sideboard creature points.

… And it’s not like Ben’s deck can’t side in a bunch of Hazorets after boards.

But mathematically? There is more Energy than Red right now. Ben’s metagaming was simply masterful.

New Decks Aplenty

Desert Red was cool, but it wasn’t alone.

This week Patrick and Mike tackle such instant classics as:

  • Esper Approach of the Second Sun
  • U/G Electrostatic Pummeler (with four copies of Bristling Hydra, for Mike)
  • Grixis builds aplenty

Check out “Masterfully Metagaming Sand Strangler” and you too may just become a metagame master:

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Energizing River’s Rebuke

River's Rebuke

Meet River’s Rebuke: Mirror-Breaker

Have you ever played the Temur Energy mirror match? And by “Temur” Energy we would include Four-color Energy and its cousins. The archetype is so good at brick walling itself.

Everyone has plenty of material. Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, and Planeswalkers can help develop resources. The Scarab God gives you something to do with your long-term land. It can bust through opposing defenses over time, and from multiple directions. Glorybringer — especially in multiples — combines evasion with card advantage. And Planeswalker-slaying!

But yet, Whirler Virtuoso is so good at keeping damage at bay!

How are you supposed to bust through?

May we suggest River’s Rebuke?

River’s Rebuke: Next Level Sideboarding

Here’s the thing about River’s Rebuke.

It’s a sorcery.

Who sides in Negate against Temur Energy? You know, the deck with 21-25 creatures? Would you side in Negate? What do you plan to Negate? A giant Vehicle? You’ve already got Abrade for that.

Whatever Negate!

It sits in your sideboard.

Meanwhile, you and your opponent accumulate more and more material, brick walling one another until…

Somebody Casts River’s Rebuke

Here’s the other thing about River’s Rebuke. It’s one-sided. Many times when you cast it, the game will be over that turn. You know all that Whirler Virtuoso brick walling? Ain’t no one home to defend. Even The Scarab God is going to fail in the face of River’s Rebuke.

Two members of the Pro Tour Ixalan Top 8 — Christian Hauk and Piotr Glogowski — ran it last weekend.

Temur Wasn’t Even the “Good” Energy Deck

Sultai Energy in the hands of former World Champion Seth Manfield reigned supreme. The trickiest of the Energy decks, Sultai has a two-card combo of Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense that few decks want to tussle with.

Learn more about Temur, Sultai, and the entire PT Ixalan Top 8 in “Energizing River’s Rebuke” now!

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Approach of the Second Sun at Pro Tour Ixalan

Approach of the Second Sun

Approach of the Second Sun

Patrick is coming to us straight from Pro Tour Ixalan this week! He played a new take on R/W Approach of the Second Sun with Sunbird’s Invocation, but more mana and fewer expensive spells.

The Pro Tour is lousy with Temur Energy (and Four-color Energy, and Sultai Energy)… But that just gives it structure to attack! Patrick’s approach to Approach seems thought-provoking now, and sounds like it will be influential moving forward. Most opponents have many “dead” cards in Game One. Imagine the B/U Control opponent who cycles through his entire deck with Search for Azcanta only to find… There is nothing to find.

Or the Energy deck (or any deck, really) that doesn’t kill you fast enough… Can they stop you from playing your Approaches?

Well… Sometimes 🙂

Give it a listen:

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The Rise of Ixalan in Modern

Modern remains one of the freshest, most dynamic, Magic formats. One of the big reasons? Ixalan in Modern is driving new combinations, and even new archetypes!

Modern Manipulation: Opt

Opt

The funny thing about Opt is that it is barely playable at all in Standard… But it is awesome in Modern!

The secret is that the efficacy of cards — in particular library manipulation cards — is inversely proportional to their casting costs in larger formats. Opt helps make combo decks like Storm more consistent. It also helps keep them going once they start to go off…

And of course? Being a one mana instant is one of the best things you can be.

And Opt is.

For reference: U/R Gifts Storm, by Scott Simmons

Modern Mana: Unclaimed Territory

Unclaimed Territory

It’s not that Unclaimed Territory is so great (though it’s pretty good)… It’s the critical mass this land represents when combined with Ancient Ziggurat and Cavern of Souls.

Collins Mullin absolutely destroyed last weekend’s Open with a Humans deck with only 4 Aether Vials — deck or sideboard — as his only non-creature spells.

Mullen could cast any Human he wanted. All these lands that can tap for any color, put together, let him consistently play Noble Hierarch at the one, [fellow Ixalan Staple] Kitesail Freebooter come two, and Mantis Rider on three mana. Mantis Rider!

That’s G, B1, and URW!

For reference: Humans, by Collins Mullen

Modern Merfolk: Deeproot Waters

Deeproot Waters

Ixalan gives Merfolk players some actual new Merfok. However their sideboard enchantment may be more interesting, and seems much, much more powerful.

Deeproot Waters is quite like an Oketra’s Monument… With tons of upside.

It’s not just that you can make a 1/1 like the white artifact; because Merfolk is full of Lords — Lord of Atlantis, Master of the Pearl Trident, and Merrow Reejerey — so it is probably a safe bet your enchantment will spit out 2/2 or 3/3 Merfolk.

For reference: U/G Merfolk, by Jeremy Bertarioni

These ideas are just scratching the surface of Ixalan in Modern. Settle the Wreckage, Field of Ruin, and Merfolk Branchwalker all performed last week, and in different decks!

Learn more about Ixalan in Modern here!

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How to Approach Sunbird’s Invocation

Sunbird's Invocation
Sunbird’s Invocation was a “Perfect 10” at US Nationals

The Sunbird’s Invocation Combo

Adam Bialkowski busted open Standard with a 10th-place finish at US Nationals last weekend. He used a R/W Board Control-slash-Combo deck utilizing this big red six and a certain favorite white seven…

Approach of the Second Sun
Here’s the simple explanation of this combination:

  1. You play Sunbird’s Invocation on six.
  2. You untap and play Approach of the Second Sun on seven.
  3. When you cast Approach of the Second Sun, the Invocation digs through the top of your library to check if there is an Approach of the Second Sun there; if there is, it will cast it for you.
  4. Your first Approach of the Second Sun (which you cast from your hand, remember) checks to see if you cast another Approach this game… You did!
  5. Ding!

This together, these two cards represent a turn seven insta-win combo.

Sunbird’s Invocation Fail State

So you’ve invested six mana in a big red enchantment.

Miraculously, you’ve untapped, still alive.

However you don’t have an Approach of the Second Sun…

What’s a girl to do?

Chin up, Planeswalker! So you don’t have a turn seven insta-win! That doesn’t mean you don’t have game…

Your Invocation plays a pretty good “personal Howling Mine” once you’ve untapped. Basically, your spells can potentially snowball into more and more spells. In the 10th place version, there are a ton of expensive cards — tons of fives sixes and of course sevens — that make its centerpiece enchantment really look good.

What’s Wrong with Sunbird’s Invocation?

If there is anything “wrong” with the Perfect 10, it might be all those expensive cards!

Adam certainly benefited from a (current?) (short-term?) gap in Mono-Red popularity. The archetype version only has one Magma Spray in the main deck, and no real way to develop its game plan against B/U Control in the early game. Further, it has a lot of expensive cards but no great way to ensure it hits all its land drops.

That isn’t taking anything away from the innovation; just to say that there is still a lot of room for optimization.

A flaming owl wasn’t the only hot Hot HOT deck to stand out at US Nationals. Check out “” now to learn more about Abzan Tokens, Mardu Vehicles, and more on the B/U Control v. U/W Control matchup in Standard!

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The Best Decks in the Worlds

Worlds Favorite: Longtusk Cub
Longtusk Cub headlined one of the best decks in the Worlds
Worlds was awesome!

We saw an amazing overlap of one of the best players of all time wielding those top skills at exactly the right time, combined with great preparation and and even better 60/75.

But we get it.

You have questions…

Top Level Podcast is here to answer those questions this week! Questions like…

  • If The Scarab God is so good, why didn’t Huey play it in his Temur Energy deck?
  • Is Commit // Memory an ace-level replacement for The Scarab God… Or basically just a boring old Utter End?
  • Is Longtusk Cub secretly just the best card in Standard?
  • Why should you play “Treasure Red” instead of regular old Ramunap Red?
  • When should you play any of the following, and in which order? Opt, Hieroglyphic Illumination, Glimmer of Genius
  • Will Huey be the first person to win Worlds, and then win Nationals the very next week?

Don’t you fret, beloved listeners! The answers to these and other burning questions await in…

The Best Decks in the Worlds

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