Hunka Hunka Burning Rage

Shrine of Burning Rage

Mike can’t stand Shrine of Burning Rage in Modern 🙁

You’d think Mike would be happy about a Burn deck winning Grand Prix Birmingham… But he just can’t wrap his head around Shrine of Burning Rage replacing Eidolon of the Great Revel at the two. To Mike, Eidolon of the Great Revel is simply one of the strongest cards in Modern; by contrast…

  • Shrine of Burning Rage is a poor mid-game topdeck.
  • The New Phyrexia artifact is only good against “fair” decks… Many of which play Kolaghan’s Command
  • A five-mana commitment that does nothing in and of itself is a recipe for getting run over by Tarmogoyfs.

Patrick does little to turn his opinion around.

Burn deck aside: Scalding Tarn

Mike hates Arid Mesa in Modern Burn decks. While many lands are functionally identical for mono-Mountains fetching (Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills have essentially the same text here), Arid Mesa is most likely to tip the opponent off.

It doesn’t come up super often, but if you pass your first turn with the fetch in play, you tend to want the opponent to fetch for an untapped shock land; they are least likely to do this against Arid Mesa.

Mike therefore likes Scalding Tarn in a 4/4/4 split.

Patrick points out a four-fetch distribution has some merit.

The two wax on the difference between the two of them playing a first-turn Scalding Tarn. It doesn’t matter which red fetch Michael plays… The jig is up before he ever breaks it. Patrick, though, is a longtime Grixis mage. He would get even more value from turn one Scalding Tarn when playing Burn than most!

Poor Mike 🙁

More and More Modern

With three big Modern tournaments across three continents to work from, Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores have much to discuss. Everything from Storm to TitanShift is up for discussion. Check it out now:

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Amonkhet in Modern

New Set on the Block Amonkhet had a pretty good weekend in Modern, across three continents, last week. Amonkhet cards contributed to all of the main macro archetypes: Control, Combo, and Beatdown!

Amonkhet Control: Glory-Bound Initiate in Esper

Glory-Bound Initiate
At Grand Prix Kobe, Akio Chiba slotted Glory-Bound Initiate into his creature-poor Esper Control deck, Stonefore Mystic style.

“Glory-Bound Initiate is legal in the format.”
-Patrick

Can’t disagree with you there!

Chiba played a four Painful Truths deck, where the life gain from Glory-Bound Initiate could be really effective in fueling his main card advantage engine. Glory-Bound Initiate is just that good in Modern!

Subtly, exerting Glory-Bound Initiate may not have that much of a downside, as opponents may actively try to trade with it.

Amonkhet Combo: Vizier of Remedies in Collected Company decks

Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid is an infinite mana engine.

Devoted Druid
Devoted Druid says “Put a -1/-1 counter on me and I’ll untap.”

Vizier of Remedies says “Go ahead and untap. But Don’t worry about the -1/-1 counter, no problem.”
Once you’ve got infinite green mana access, the world (or at least your deck) is your oyster. Here are some of the things players did last weekend:

  • Draw every creature in my deck with Duskwatch Recruiter. One of those creatures is Walking Ballista. Pay however much. Get you for however much.
  • Combine with Knight of the Reliquary and Kessig Wolf-Run for infinite power (and trample).
  • Overrun all with Ezuri, Renegade Leader. The coolest thing about this version is that even if you have to tap all your guys to set up / make the infinite mana, you can still untap Devoted Druid to be your lone attacker… With infinite power!

Amonkhet Aggro: Harsh Mentor in Burn

Harsh Mentor
Meanwhile back in Baltimore, MD — USA — Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Stephen Neal added a Harsh Mentor as his “fifth copy” of Eidolon of the Great Revels.

Neal’s version was super atypical for Burn (at least since the release of Inspiring Vantage), going up to some fifteen creatures… But still finding room for some unique spell choices.

Shard Volley, anyone?

What is important for Amonkhet fans is that Harsh Mentor might be Burn’s best friend in certain matchups. Of course it makes life harder on the fetchland player, but think about Affinity: Harsh Mentor makes doing stuff like activating an Arcbound Ravager downright dangerous.

TLDR: Amonkhet hit Modern hard last weekend; and it hit from Control, Combo, and Beatdown. Obviously more on this story as the format continues to develop.

Listen to “Amonkhet in Modern” now for even more decks and details:

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What Makes Ad Nauseam a Fantastic Choice

Ad Nauseam
Ad Nauseam is the centerpiece of a powerful Modern combo deck.

The Winning Ad Nauseam Deck

Nicholas Byrd won the most recent Modern Open with a wonderfully positioned Ad Nauseam deck. This style of deck combines the mana acceleration of Simian Spirit Guide, Pentad Prism, and Desperate Ritual with a number of esoteric and specialized cards to kill with a solo Lightning Storm.

The Ad Nauseum Combo

The core combination here is namesake Ad Nauseam + Angel’s Grace. While Under Angel’s Grace you cannot lose the game. So… You can’t accidentally kill yourself. Yay!

An alternate to Angel’s Grace is Phyrexian Unlife. Because the card Ad Nauseam uses your life total for fuel, Phyrexian Unlife [further] protects you by protecting you from the opponent. Playing against Phyrexian Unlife can be challenging for the unfamiliar.

Example:

If you are at 1 life, it at some level doesn’t matter if the opponent attacks with one creature with one power or one hundred creatures with one hundred power each. A single combat will not “overload” the Phyrexian Unlife. None of the damage from a single attack will start dealing infect.

This strategy might not be the deck you want to play when Infect is popular… But Infect is less popular than it has been in months: Opportunity! This kind of positioning, combined with the raw power and potential speed of the combo itself, are what made Ad Nauseam such a great choice for last weekend.

All that said, this archetype’s sideboard options may be what really set it apart. With four — count ’em, four — copies of Leyline of Sanctity (plus a Timely Reinforcements), it is well prepared for the popular (and performing) Lava Spike decks. I had to do a double take on Darkness. Yep, that Legends instant was in fact reprinted in Time Spiral. Much as regular old Fog can buy Mono-Green Tron tons of setup time, Darkness can effectively undo all the effort an opponent put in to Empty the Warrens, Death’s Shadow, or Cranial Plating.

While we discuss Ad Nauseum at length, this is more of a “Modern Potpourri” episode, with time devoted to everything from Gruul Ponza to Architects of Will. Check it out:

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Previews for Modern Masters 2017 Edition

Modern Masters 2017 Edition
Somebody must like them:
MichaelJ and Patrick sure got some sweet preview cards from Modern Masters 2017 Edition!

Mike’s Modern Masters Spoiler:

Compulsive Research
Compulsive Research
Compulsive Research is near and dear to Mike’s heart. He has both filled his own graveyard with Firemane Angels and forced opposing Firemane Angel decks to draw a lethal number of cards. This is a card that allows you to access every part of the veritable buffalo.

What Patrick Wants to Find in a Modern Masters Pack

Cruel Ultimatum
Cruel Ultimatum
We all know what a soft spot Patrick has for Grixis. There is no more “Grixis” card than Cruel Ultimatum.

Top Level Podcast shares some war stories, and tells you why Compulsive Research and Cruel Ultimatum are some of the most exciting cards in Modern Masters 2017 Edition:

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Back to our regularly-scheduled podcast tomorrow.

Reimagining Death’s Shadow

Death's Shadow
Death’s Shadow produced a clean break — including both Grand Prix and team event wins — and is probably the best deck in Modern.

Weren’t Bannings Supposed to Nerf Death’s Shadow?

Just a few weeks ago there were bannings.

Golgari Grave-Troll was there for Dredge. Yes, Dredge would still be viable, but its biggest, burliest, enabler disappeared.

Gitaxian Probe is kinda sorta not a real Magic: The Gathering card. Why does Gitaxian Probe even exist? The banning of this card pushed a pin into the collective bubbles of decks like Infect, Storm, and… Death’s Shadow.

Gitaxian Probe had a special place in the old Death’s Shadow deck. Sure, the new version still has cards like Mishra’s Bauble, but Gitaxian Probe also cost the Death’s Shadow deck life (in most cases), (oddly) helping to grow the centerpiece threat.

A More Interactive Death’s Shadow Deck

The previous version was mostly an offensive deck. Wild Nacatl or Monastery Swiftspear got the ball rolling; the creatures were much more plentiful… but the interaction was deemphasized.

The current version is almost a Jund deck. This deck has only a few creatures (even if they are doozies)… It has a ton of midrange interaction instead. Fatal Push, a ton of direct hand destruction including the maximum numbers of both Thoughtseize and Inquisition of Kozilek, and even Tarfire have repositioned the archetype.

Tarfire?

In addition to having the superpower of being one mana, Tarfire is a Tribal Instant. As such, it’s really useful for 1) buffing Tarmogoyf, and 2) getting Traverse the Ulvenwald online super quickly. Some versions even have Seal of Fire to make Tarmogoyf that much bigger!

Survival

Most of the offense in this strategy is accomplished by only two creatures: Death’s Shadow and Tarmogoyf. Unfortunately — and especially given the printing of Fatal Push — neither of those guys is hard to kill. The deck can weather opposing removal in a number of ways…

  • Liliana, the Last Hope – Played in some versions (over Liliana of the Veil), Liliana can put a creature from your graveyard back in your hand.
  • Renegade Rallier – Played in some versions (over Ghor-Clan Rampager), this creature can recycle cheap creatures
  • Kolaghan’s Command – Played in essentially every version, Kolaghan’s Command is a multi-pronged tool. It can lock opponents out, it can do the last two points, and of course it can raise the dead.

Thirteen creatures have never stretched so far.

Learn more about Death’s Shadow in this week’s podcast:

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Breaking Kari Zev’s Expertise

Kari Zev's Expertise
Kari Zev’s Expertise is already format-warping.
Years from now, when we look back on Aether Revolt, it will likely be the case that what we remember most about the set is how badly it helped players to cheat.

Cheat on costs, that is.

Kari Zev’s Expertise is at this point the most prominent example of how Aether Revolt can break — really break — the rules of Magic to gain a massive advantage. Dan Ward was the first person to innovate Kari Zev’s Expertise in Modern (though he lost in the finals of his Regional Chapionship, to Mike’s apprentice Roman Fusco playing the Inspiring Vantage Burn deck).

How Does the Kari Zev’s Expertise Combo Work?

Dan played Simian Spirit Guide, so he could pop off the Expertise against a second turn beatdown card (say a Grim Flayer). Threatens can be good cards in and of themselves, but this one also gives you the opportunity to play a two mana card for free.

The most important two mana card you can play is Breaking // Entering:

Breaking // Entering
Note two things about these cards:

  1. Kari Zev’s Expertise specifically says the word “card” (as opposed to “spell”).
  2. The “Breaking” half of Breaking // Entering costs two. Bingo! You can play the card Breaking // Entering for free even though if you had flipped this over with a Dark Confidant, you’d be eating eight.

When you are casting Breaking // Entering this way, you never give the opponent a chance to use Relic of Progenitus or Extirpate. If you separately cast Breaking and then Entering, the opponent would have a chance to respond, but entwined this way, it is just one giant beating.

Ward’s deck still had Goryo’s Vengeance, Cathartic Reuinion, and other traditional enablers.

All That and Fatal Push!

Fatal Push is going to continue to be highly effective in Modern… A card (for once not Rare or worse) on the order of Path to Exile. One of the reasons that Ward’s deck seemed so reliable is that he lacked the small creatures that make Fatal Push such an effective defensive card.

Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores go over not just a number of ways to cheat costs in Modern, but run down ideas for other archetypes like Burn, Grixis Control, or Abzan Company. Check it all out in this week’s episode!

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Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian

Felidar Guardian
Felidar Guardian is going to enable [at least] one new infinite combo in Standard.

Bonus episode!

New busted engines and combo decks in Standard!

A new world order from at least two different directions!

But first, the bans…

We will certainly get to the powerhouse that is Felidar Guardian, but the reason Top Level Podcast recorded a new “emergency” episode this week is the bans. A ton of cards were banned in both Modern and Standard. We devote most of the podcast to the justifications, implications, and ramifications of the bans, but briefly:

Modern:

  • Gitaxian Probe: This card probably had it coming for a long time; it’s hard to balance any card that costs exactly [only] one Phyrexian blue mana. It mostly just drew you into your Become Immense while reducing its mana cost for free. Infect will remain super viable (but will have lost a little juice, which is justifiable), but the jury is out on Death’s Shadow, Storm, etc. Mike predicts the big winner will be Affinity.
  • Golgari Grave-Troll: When this was recently un-banned, Cathartic Reunion had not yet been printed. Don’t look for Dredge to die completely in Modern. There are plenty of Dredge cards to replace this card, just at a downgrade. The graveyard will be “fine” … Just a little less powerful (which is fine).

Standard:

  • Emrakul, the Promised End: “She is the problem.” -Patrick. If there were only one card to be banned, this would have definitely been the one.
  • Smuggler’s Copter: If you were only going to ban two cards, it should have been Emrakul and this one (so WotC got that right). Smuggler’s Copter, remember, is the first card in years to post thirty-two (32!!!) copies in a single Top 8.
  • Reflector Mage: Patrick’s argument around this ban is perfect and you really just have to listen to it. Reflector Mage isn’t the intuitive right choice for blunting U/W (heck, they don’t even always play it, as it has neither Flash nor Flying), but it is not only perfect but a contextually better choice than Spell Queller. Trust us… err… Patrick, rather.

The World According to Felidar Guardian

The spoiling of Felidar Guardian has caused unprecedented interest in Saheeli Rai. If for no other reason than that, banning this new card prior to Pro Tour Aether Revolt would be a disaster. So, they didn’t.

The simple combo is turn three Saheeli Rai, turn four Felidar Guardian. Saheeli Rai copies Felidar Guardian (with haste), the Felidar Guardian blinks and resets Saheeli Rai; rinse, repeat, attack for a ton.

The combo can also be accomplished cleanly on turn six by playing Felidar Guardian and blinking a land (so your two mana becomes three, or enough to cast Saheeli Rai). Infinite again.

Whether this combo wins Pro Tour Aether Revolt or not remains to be seen… But it will certainly be something Pros will be thinking about.

Your bonus episode, “Out with the Old, in with Felidar Guardian”:

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Back Thursday, per usual.

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?

Skred
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.”
-Patrick

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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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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