The Deadliest Uses for Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker
Some cards are just better than the others. Hostage Taker is already one of the best.

Actually… Make that Better than the Best

Brainstorm. Fact or Fiction. Oath of Druids.

Vampiric Tutor. Hermit Druid. Upheaval.

The Top 8 of Pro Tour Houston 2003 sounds like the love child of the Banned and Restricted List and a general rundown of the best spells from almost any format. But the best card of the era? Believe it or not?

Faceless Butcher.

Faceless Butcher!

Faceless Butcher
Weird, right?

A four-of in Mono-Black Reanimator and a key bullet in The Rock’s sideboard, Faceless Butcher was a cast-able answer to everything from a mid-range All-Star like Spiritmonger to a combo-riffic 20/20 Cognivore.

Hostage Taker is like Faceless Butcher… But way, way, better. It has the same basic ability, but offers the opportunity for a three-for-one upgrade (rather than just two-for-one).

Five Mana: The New “Splinter Twin” Combo

How are you supposed to deal with The Scarab God? A Fatal Push? Ask it to Walk the Plank? Stockpile a bunch of energy and hit it with Harnessed Lightning?

None of those seem like very good solutions to The Scarab God.

What about removing it from game?

Hostage Taker seems like a great way to deal with The Scarab God… Only that 2/3 body isn’t exactly durable. Every Abrade and Lightning Strike (plus like half the Fatal Pushes) will kill it.

… Unless you make it hexproof or something. So that’s why, Sultai!

Blossoming Defense
Hostage Taker + Blossoming Defense is like peanut butter and chocolate.
When you put Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense together, you can — for sake of argument — exile the opponent’s The Scarab God (which you would probably have to do to win, anyway)… And catch your breath for one mana. All you need to do is get the untap and that The Scarab God can be yours! You will be the unbeatable mage!

A great solution to a certain supposedly “indestructible” red God, Hostage Taker is nevertheless quite vulnerable to a Red Deck’s many point removal spells. Blossoming Defense is equally useful here while you bide your time for the untap.

Hostage Taker: Taking Hostages Here, There, Everywhere

Sultai ruled the day at the first Standard Open of the season… But who knows just how far the long shadow of Hostage Taker may loom? God Pharaoh’s Gift decks seem to be leaning towards the black and blue of Esper. There might be an honest to god Pirates deck hiding in the metagame. Poor dinosaurs! It’s gotta suck to have such great creatures… Only to have to deal with them yourself when The Scarab God and Hostage Taker are across the table.

More on Hostage Taker’s meteoric rise (and the rest of the opening weekend of Ixalan Standard) right here:

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Lessons from Pious Interdiction

Pious Interdiction

What Can We Learn from Pious Interdiction?

Often competitive players will look at a card like Pious Interdiction — which has what might be a desirable effect if at a hefty cost — and discard it out of hand.

But when was the last time you asked yourself what drove that kind of thinking? Are there contexts where you would want a card like this? If so, when?

Mike — winner of his Midnight Prerelease — can certainly point to a time!

Pious Interdiction can be a heck of a Limited card

That’s right! Pious Interdiction can certainly get it done in forty card decks!

… That’s actually how Patrick and Mike got into the discussion this week! Mike was lucky enough to open four copies of Pious Interdiction, and they did such a great job of nullifying his opponents’ key flyers or fat green creatures he was almost ready to sign up for Pious Interdiction in Constructed.

Almost.

The problem — part of the problem anyway — with Pious Interdiction is just the cost.

The cost is both the “right answer” and too simple of an answer, though. While this aura is great at interacting with threats like Sealed Deck where so many of an opponent’s cards will be more expensive than in Standard, four mana can be a big ask in sixty card decks.

Patrick is quick to caution that general rules about how much things “should” cost for certain effects can be foolhardy. We must always be mindful of context.

Pious Interdiction v. the World

For the current Standard, at least, Pious Interdiction has plenty of context around it, helping to define is viability (or non-viability).

Cast Out also costs four mana, but has so much flexibility around Flash, Cycling, and the option to exile non-creature permanents. For that matter, Cast Out does a much better job, generally, of interacting with creatures! Cast Out isn’t always better for four mana, as there are times you will want to gain two life… But it’s usually better.

If you’re really in the market for an overcosted Pacifism that gains life, might we suggest a Desert’s Hold?

Desert's Hold
Desert’s Hold doesn’t let you get away with deck building free or anything… You have to build your deck with Deserts — and you have to have Deserts either in play or in the graveyard to get the bonus — but it both costs less mana and gains more life than Pious Interdiction. Yet Desert’s Hold is far from a popular Constructed card.

Join Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores in this eye-opening theoretical discussion, plus more — much more — actual Constructed quality cards from Ixalan in this week’s episode!

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This week’s episode of the Top Level Podcast is brought to you by Mack Weldon. For 20% off your order, visit http://www.mackweldon.com and use the promo code toplevel

Just How Good are the Blasting Cannons?

Vance's Blasting Cannons

Vance’s Blasting Cannons: The Final Flip

Last week, when gushing over flip cards like Search for Azcanta, we hadn’t yet had the opportunity to see the red member of the cycle.

Unlike a certain blue transformer for two, this card is a bit controversial. Where, if anywhere, would you want to play it? Would a red aggressive deck ever want to run it over either an indestructible god or a Rowdy Crew?

“Well,” Mike points out, “at least the flip condition is a ‘may'” …

Outpost Siege v. Vance’s Blasting Cannons

Outpost Siege
Is Outpost Siege where we set the bar?
The most obvious point of comparison for this new card is Outpost Siege.

For its part, Outpost Siege served every role from “main-deck four-of in R/W aggro” to “sideboard role player competing with its day’s Chandra at the four”. Regardless of how you want to slice it, Outpost Siege was a stronger card than Vance’s Blasting Cannons (at least the front side).

To wit:

  • Outpost Siege had two different modes: Not only was it a potential source of incremental card advantage over time, the “Dragons” setting was a way to win.
  • Outpost Siege was not a Legendary permanent. You could have multiple copies in play! Mike probably still has nightmares about facing Sam Black with two Khans and a Dragons on camera
  • Outpost Siege allowed you to play both spells and lands as extra resources. Vance’s Blasting Cannons is kinda sorta only 60% of an Outpost Siege (again, with half the options). So 30-33% on its face? How annoying would it be to reveal a land (that you can’t play) and then not draw a land (when you need one)? Gross, right?

But the bar isn’t whether this is better or worse than Outpost Siege in the abstract; the front-side is pretty much worse. The question is if it is good enough to play anyway.

And we can’t answer that question without addressing…

Vance’s Blasting Cannons // Spitfire Bastion

Spitfire Bastion
Is the payoff on Spitfire Bastion worth the work?

“Would you play a card that read “RR4. Enchantment. 2R, Tap: Deal three damage to target creature or player?”
-Patrick

Probably not?

While Mike wouldn’t play such a conjectural card (probably), it is useful to think of the final flip as potentially three different cards:

  1. The aforementioned 30-33% of an Outpost Siege: This card is a source of incremental card advantage that pays off only after you’ve untapped successfully with it in play. More than that, it really only pays off after multiple turns.
  2. The conjectural six mana enchantment. This version flips immediately, gives you a potential mana boost (you can still, say, cast a Shock or Magma Spray), but will only offer the full value at very high mana / late in the game
  3. Spitfire Bastion

Spitfire Bastion is a source of inevitability, not unlike fellow land Ramanup Ruins. Decks like U/R Control, for example, can’t allow this to flip, because no matter how well they close out on creatures, they will likely lose the game three life points at a time.

Mike — ever fearful of Kor Firewalker — points out that as a colorless source of damage, Spitfire Bastion can kill the hell out of Protection from Red creatures.

So what do you think about this last transformer? The Top Level Podcast boys revisit some of the others and a whole mess of Ixalan cards in this week’s episode.

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This week’s episode of the Top Level Podcast is brought to you by Mack Weldon. For 20% off your order, visit http://www.mackweldon.com and use the promo code toplevel

Flipping Out Over Search for Azcanta

This week MichaelJ is flipping out over flip cards! First among them? The Search for Azcanta!

Check Out Search for Azcanta:

Search for Azcanta

“Oh hell yeah!”
-Patrick

We’ll come out and say it to begin with: Search for Azcanta is probably undercosted. There have been effects like this in the past, but they didn’t cost two mana.

The front side of this card offers powerful library manipulation. Sure. It sets up the top of your deck. But that’s not all! Search for Azcanta not only pushes aside clunky or expensive spells, it sets up graveyard synergies!

This card is great with flashback, eternalize, or Renegade Rallier.

Subtly, the “flip” ability is a may, not a must. While you will usually want to be flipping it, there are times that Search for Azcanta will be better for you than Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Don’t worry: You get to pick.

Search for Azcanta Becomes Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

“… more powerful in play than Library of Alexandria…”
-Patrick

Two things on this one:

First of all, it’s a kind of weird Rampant Growth. If you have Search for Azcanta on the battlefield and say four lands… When it flips, you will have five or six mana (depending on land drop). That, in and of itself, is a pretty big get for blue.

Of course, Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is actually just awesome once you get it online. Getting a de facto Impulse every turn will put you way ahead in grinding matchups, and will threaten to bury the opponent in card advantage.

Further, this card is just begging for you to cheat! No, not “cheat” in the sense of getting banned from DCI sanctioned tournaments… Cheating the flip condition. While the front-side enchantment will get you to the point where it will flip eventually, there is no reason to wait around. Cards like Strategic Planning are screaming to help you flip to the legendary land.

Both sides of this card seem like they will be awesome in Approach of the Second Sun decks. Either side will help dig you to your second Approach.

But Wait! There’s More!

While Search for Azcanta has our boys the most excited, there are tons of other flip cards worth talking about. We love Legions Landing, generally dislike Arguel’s Blood Fast. But where and when will even that be played?

Gotta check out the podcast, to find out:

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Exclusive Ixalan Preview: Lookout’s Dispersal

We teased it earlier on Instagram…

Exclusive Preview. Midnight TONIGHT! #ixalan #mtg www.toplevelpodcast.com

A post shared by Top Level Podcast (@toplevelpodcast) on

… Now it’s time to reveal the real card itself:

Lookout’s Dispersal!

Lookout's Dispersal
Yes, yes — this sweet new counterspell is kinda sorta a Metallic Rebuke for the Pirates tribe.

What if, by the way, you try this with Metallic Rebuke in a Pirates deck exploiting a lot of treasure tokens? Pretty cool, huh?

In a special exclusive bonus podcast, Patrick and Michael go over their first impressions on Lookout’s Dispersal, a new Pirates-themed instant from Ixalan:

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“Somewhere between ‘sweet’ and ‘backbreaking’ … ”
-Mike

Ixalan!

Kick back, pop in your earbuds, and give a listen to our first look at Ixalan:

Ixalan Changes Planeswalker Rules

Jace, Cunning Castaway
Jace, Cunning Castaway: Ixalan Planeswalker
Michael notes that Jace seems to have gotten ripped in the Gatewatch.

Patrick notes that Jace, Cunning Castaway boasts one of the fastest Planeswalker Ultimates ever. You might as well Ultimate when Jace’s loyalty hits 5 BTW; while the token copies are not Legendary, Jace, Cunning Castaway itself is.

The new Planeswalker Uniqueness v. Legendary rule will change how Planeswalkers get played. Having more Jaces in play is cool and all (and this one actually does that for you) but the big winner has to be Gideon of the Trials.

People just didn’t play Gideon of the Trials because they were already playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; now there is no disincentive. More importantly, having more than one kind of Gideon in play will give players greater protection for their Platinum Angel-like Ultimate.

Ixalan and the Treasure Theme

Captain Lannery Storm
Captain Lannery Storm
Layered and flexible, the Captain is probably Mike’s favorite card in Ixalan.

Use her treasure now! She is basically a 3/2 haste creature.

Use her treasure later! You can stockpile for a large attack, or save the mana to bust out Glorybringer on the quick!

Use her treasure for mana! What about not pumping the Captain, but just sacrificing her treasure to cast a Shock, Magma Spray… Or even a Fatal Push?

Exploring Ixalan

Tishana's Wayfinder
Tishana’s Wayfinder
It’s all the things Mike never should have loved…

  • Sometimes it’s Borderland Ranger
  • Sometimes it’s Gnarled Mass
  • Generally it’s inconsistent and unpredictable

Sold!

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores talk all the Ixalan that’s fit to discuss; spoiled cards, flavor and aesthetics; and of course brewing! Check out Top Level Podcast’s first take on Ixalan right here, right now!

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Getting to Know God-Pharaoh’s Gift

God-Pharaoh's Gift

God-Pharaoh’s Gift is The Postmodern Debtors’ Knell…

Debtors' Knell
Compare God-Pharaoh’s Gift to Debtors’ Knell. Remember: Debtors’ Knell was a breaker in both Ravnica Block Constructed and in the Standard of its era!

Both cards cost seven mana. However, the new version is a colorless artifact; consequently, it is an easier seven than Debtors’ Knell to get into play.

Above and beyond Debtors’ Knell, though, God-Pharaoh’s Gift grants haste! Take that, opponent!

Another Home for Champion of Wits

Champion of Wits
Champion of Wits has been making and breaking all kinds of decks in its short — yet already storied — career. Champion of Wits is a key enabler of this artifact.

God-Pharaoh’s Gift wants you to put creatures into your graveyard. After all, it is from the graveyard that the dead will rise (and hastily attack). Champion of Wits specializes in putting cards — creatures or otherwise — into the graveyard. It helps dig to your God-Pharaoh’s Gift (or proxy for). A creature itself, when you return a Champion of Wits, it comes back as a 4/4 creature so you draw even more cards!

The synergies do not end with just fueling creatures.

You can discard God-Pharaoh’s Gift itself to the graveyard. Why would you want to do that?

Refurbish
Champion of Wits costs three mana. The very next turn you can Refurbish the God-Pharaoh’s Gift directly onto the battlefield! The card is the easiest possible seven mana. But how sweet is it when you play it for just four?

Redundancy, Incorporated

Gate to the Afterlife
Another three mana facilitator to God-Pharaoh’s Gift is Gate to the Afterlife.

I’d say drawing and discarding cards helps you dig to your key spell… But that’s not even necessary here. Once you have six creatures in the graveyard (whether from looting, or discarding to Champion of Wits, chump blocking) you can just switch one artifact for the other.

Gross.

For more on this great strategy, more Champion of Wits, and lots and lots more Mono-Red in Standard, check out this week’s podcast now!

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Resilient Khenra: Bring on the Beatdown!

resilient khenra
Resilient Khenra is one of several aggressive cards covered in this beatdown-oriented episode.
Hour of Devastation brings several aggressive options to Standard. We’ve mostly talked about powerhouse cards like Hour of Devastation [the card], or big ramp spells like Hour of Promise so far… But the new set can also turn a mean Jackal sideways!

Resilient Khenra: Greater than Grizzly Bears

To start, this card is a 2/2 creature for 1G… Any text on it is going to put it past the classic Grizzly Bears.

As it is, giving a creature +2/+2 one time is comparable to a 2/2 haste creature, according to Patrick.

The question is whether you can afford to play Resilient Khenra in a world that has optimized out Duskwatch Recruiter and Sylvan Advocate. We think… Maybe.

For one thing, Sylvan Advocate has largely lost on the presence of Fatal Push. Later in the game, when Sylvan Advocate is meant to get big, it still has a tiny two in the top-right… Making it a great target for Fatal Push.

Resilient Khenra doesn’t have the same problem. It leaves a body, yes, but pushing the tempo with its 187 buff effect is the main reason you choose this card.

Resilient Khenra post-Adorned Pouncer

One of the things that makes this creature so attractive is its ability to synergize with Adorned Pouncer.

Adorned Pouncer
If you start on an Adorned Pouncer, and follow up with Resilient Khenra, you don’t merely get +2/+2… You get to exploit the double strike on Adorned Pouncer. So for only two mana, you get four extra damage (and keep the Jackal Wizard body).

Later in the game, the two creatures’ Eternalize abilities curve one into the next. Adorned Pouncer costs five to Eternalize, and Resilient Khenra costs six. In the late-game case, Resilient Khenra provides +4/+4 due to the token’s superior size, so the multiplier is that much more dangerous.

Appeal // Authority in Tokens, or Anywhere

The G/W color combination isn’t limited to Eternalize guys in Hour of Devastation. What about Appeal // Authority?

In a tokens deck specifically, Appeal can deal a huge amount of extra damage for only one mana, while Authority hearkens back to Alexander Hayne’s Block Constructed PT win from a few years back.

Together, they may make a splash. Luckily, they’re always together.

Give it all a listen:

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Hour of Devastation is the Best of the Bunch

Hour of Devastation
Hour of Devastation is the card red control decks have always wanted.

Hour of Devastation deals 5 damage to each creature…

Red has long had the ability to deal two to three points of damage to multiple creatures for about three mana. Examples include Standard Staples like Kozilek’s Return, Radiant Flames, or Sweltering Suns.

But five damage?

Historically, red mages would have had to pay seven or more mana for a big sweep like this. Worse yet, in earlier eras, they would have to take five damage themselves! Earthquake, for example, only hit non-flying creatures.

From these perspectives, Hour of Devastation is really something special.

Blah blah blah… Each non-Bolas Planeswalker

One of the fantastic aspects of Hour of Devastation is how it can deal with Planeswalkers.

Forget about the fact that it can deal with Planeswalkers directly at all, the fail state of this card falls into a convenient place. What is the kind of deck where you would want Hour of Devastation? Something like Zombies, right? A deck where the opponent plays multiple creatures, that sometimes get big… The ability to deal five to all of them is quite attractive against Zombies.

But what about when you don’t want a big creature sweeper? Oftentimes, the opposite number to Zombies will be a Control deck. Those decks will very often give you one or more Planeswalkers to kill, especially board control decks.

Hour of Devastation works great in Grixis

This set is very Grixis-oriented. There is a Grixis themed cycle of Gods, and of course the God Pharaoh is in Grixis colors.

Hour of Devastation (red) is highly complimentary to other key Grixis cards. For example, this card does five… And Torrential Gearhulk has six toughness. It’s one thing for Torrential Gearhulk to live through the Hour… But what about being able to swing directly?

Consider:

  • Turn 6 – Flash out Torrential Gearhulk (to stabilize, stay alive, just get an advantage)
  • Turn 7 – Play a land; cast it leaving up UU. Get in there for five!

And more! Much more! in “Hour of Devastation is the Best of the Bunch”:

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Hour of Promise is Quite Promising

Hour of Promise
The Locust God may be on the art, but our bet is that Hour of Promise will be ushering in Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger.

Hour of Promise is no Explosive Vegetation

Mike initially misreads Hour of Devastation as an overcosted Explosive Vegetation. It’s not a surprising mistake. Explosive Vegetation costs four, but Hour of Promise costs five. They both go and get two lands; Hour of Promise sometimes makes two zombies.

Oh wait… basic.

Sorry: basic

That is, unlike Explosive Vegetation, Hour of Promise can search up any lands, not just more Forests or whatever!

Example: Go and get two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
Shrine of the Forsaken Gods
If you can cast Hour of Promise, the implication is that you have five lands in play. If you get two copies of Shrine of the Forsaken Gods, you’ll then have seven lands in play, meaning you can tap for nine.

All you have to do is hit your land drop next turn to have ten mana for Ulamog, the Ceaseless Hunger!

Hour of Promise is More a Thalia’s Lancers than an Explosive Vegetation

Mike loves to mark for 4/4 creatures for five mana that have a cool or card advantageous abilities.

Examples:

Hour of Promise is like one of those, but possibly better. Why? Instead of one 4/4 creature, your payoff is two 2/2 creatures. Two 2/2s are sometimes more useful than just one 4/4, but Hour of Promise generates about the same amount of power and toughness.

The “Desert” Clause isn’t that big a deal

All you need is one Desert in your first five lands and you’ll be dripping in Zombie tokens!

Why? You can just go and get two other Deserts and put them on the battlefield. Now, armed with three Deserts in play, you will soon the be the owner of a pair of Zombie tokens.

The deck design implications are open to explore. Do you want to play lots of Deserts? That would increase your chances of having a Desert in play on turn five. Or, you might only play three total Deserts. Card selection aside, you will have a lot of specialty lands fighting for space in your mana base… You might not have room for too many Deserts.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores cover many more Hour of Devastation cards in this great podcast. Two words: “horse tribal” … Check it out now!

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