Skewer the Critics (and other spectacular Spectacles)

Skewer the Critics
Get ready to Skewer the Critics

Krark-Clan Ironworks… We Hardly Knew Ya!

Or, we’ve known you for seventeen years. Either or.

The King is Dead! Long live Ravnica Allegiance.

Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage Are Already Making Waves in Standard

Skewer the Critics is like “Rift Bolt 2K19” according to Mike. Along with Light Up the Stage (aka “Red draw-two”), these Spectacles are driving success for initial builds of Mono-Red.

Patrick and Michael agree that the initial Mono-Red decks in Standard are going to be balls to the wall aggressive. This is a move away from the Arch of Orazca / Treasure Map Red Decks; or even the Experimental Frenzy builds that have been such important pillars of Standard for the last few months. This is because they believe in the importance of racing Wilderness Reclamation decks. If you let one of these upcoming Rampers get going, no midrange deck will be able to keep pace.

Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage in Modern

Michael argues that these same Spectacle cards will be outstanding in Modern. Skewer the Critics does basically the same thing as every non-creature card in a Modern Red Deck… And it does so for only one mana, assuming Spectacle. Mike’s thinking is that moving down casting costs is the most important thing a Red Deck can be doing right now; plus, the ability to cut a land lets you increase spell and threat density.

WATCH THIS SPACE for a Modern recap (assuming Mike kicks butt and takes names this weekend in New Jersey).

Make Mine Rakdos: The Black Spectacles

  • Drill Bit – Patrick points out how this can pay off a player for running aggressive one drops. Mike sees it as a supplement to Duress (probably out of the sideboard) but is a little skeptical of the Spectacle.
  • Spawn of Mayhem – Awesome in part because it so easily enables future Spectacles.

… Plus a Top-Five card that is sure to make your Wilderness Reclamation even more broken. All in:

“Skewer the Critics (and more spectacular Spectacles)”

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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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Exclusive UMA Preview: Sovereigns of Lost Alara

Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Sovereigns of Lost Alara was the defining centerpiece to a powerful strategy.

This spirit is big…

But it’s not really that big for its cost. I mean… 4/5 for six? That barely qualifies as a fatty. Now 4/5 for four might be more like it.

Well… Sovereigns of Lost Alara did have Exalted. When attacking alone, it was more of a 5/6 for six, right? Sure, sure. But maybe more importantly, its Exalted had “haste”. Like, if you had a creature already in play, it could attack and get the Exalted.

But still… 4/5 for…

What about 15/16 for six?

Fifteen-sixteen? What are you talking about, Willis?

Eldrazi Conscription
How about you go and get Eldrazi Conscription?

Oh yeah, there’s that second clause after “Exalted”. If you attacked with a creature alone — Sovereigns or someone else — you could search your library for an Aura and play it for free. It just made sense to play a huge one that had a huge impact on the game (that you wouldn’t normally want to pay retail for).

Enter: One of the most successful Standard decks of its era.

Give our little preview / recap a listen:

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Is Experimental Frenzy the New Necropotence?

Experimental Frenzy
Mike thinks Experimental Frenzy is a Necropotence-esque card.

What does he mean by this? To Mike, Experimental Frenzy is going to inform both deck design and in-game play. Like Necropotence, the Frenzy is going to offer a relentless stream of card advantage limited only by how much land you have in play.

But the card — at least when surrounded by a bunch of cheap creatures and burn — is really good at playing many cards per turn + hitting that land drop. That said…

Experimental Frenzy gets stuck on consecutive lands

Sadly, this is a true story.

Part of the long-term challenge in building Experimental Frenzy Red Decks will be how you solve this problem. There will be multiple possible solutions. Here are some ideas:

  • Dismissive Pyromancer – A Human Wizard, this card synergizes with the Wizard’s Lightning you’ve already got. The Pyromancer can shoot at large creatures but also change the top card of your library under Frenzy.
  • Treasure Map – An amazing tool against mid-range and Control decks, Treasure Map is one of the best possible cards to have in play while under Frenzy. It can help you dig to what you need early, then keep your gas going late.
  • Field of Ruin – Mike is currently sideboarding this card as his extra land. Not only does it have text against stuff like Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin; it can change the top card of your library while you are under Frenzy.
  • Risk Factor – a new card from Guilds of Ravnica, Risk Factor can be played from the graveyard while you are under Frenzy, often changing your top card. For next level performance, try discarding Risk Factor to your Risk Factor.

The Best of the Rest:

Boros Angels – Find out about the new home of Lyra Dawnbringer and friends.

G/W Tokens – Mike claims this is the most powerful initial deck in the format.

Blue control (various) – Get ready for a change of pace!

One thing is for sure: Standard is waaaaay different than it was a couple of weeks ago. Check it out:

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Doom Whisperer: The Critics Agree!

Doom Whisperer
Doom Whisperer is great, and is going to be great!

This Nightmare Demon has a solid body for its casting cost.

This creature easily passes Magic’s lowest bar. At 6/6 for 3BB, Doom Whisperer is far bigger for a five drop than many tournament (or at least Standard) Staples. For comparison, cross-archetype All-Star Glorybringer was only 4/4 and current Baneslayer Angel Lyra, Dawnbringer is 5/5. Doom Whisperer towers over most of its competitors… Or, rather, tramples over them.

Oh yeah, both flying and trample are kind of thrown in!

Doom Whisperer is a lockdown threat.

While its size and its evasion are both spot-on, neither is what really makes this card so interesting. Surveil 2 — with no attached mana requirement — is something special. The Whisperer can break an opponent in multiple ways. We think its most common use will be in mid-range control decks. In such decks, the Nightmare Demon can utilize Surveil to ensure drawing action, turn after turn. In some decks it will be able to load the graveyard with jump-start cards, or even trigger Narcomoeba and Crippling Chill. But the “mere” ability to keep a permission spell on top for three turns will be enough to win most races.

It can be played in multiple different strategies

There is no reason to damn Doom Whisperer to Mono-Black Control. I mean, Mono-Black Control is probably going to be a reasonable home… But so will Orzhov Control, Golgari, Sultai, and other color combinations. That is because a 6/6 flyer for five can slot right into many of those strategies. Creature decks sometimes need a huge finisher, Control decks need a way to win at all: This card can fit both those roles and almost everything between them.

This week’s podcast offers some Doom Whisperer consensus over last week’s… But also explores a card Mike thinks will make a big splash in Modern (which Patrick thinks is fringe playable, and maybe only by Reid Duke); a selection of small evasion creatures (you might want to buy back from the graveyard); and an exploration of Guilds Goblins. Check it out:

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