Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo

Anointed Procession
It might not look it at first glance, but Anointed Procession is going to enable infinite everything.

Sensei’s Diving Top – Banned in Legacy!

“Sensei’s Divining Top gets no hat tip from me. There are very few cards — probably zero in the history of Magic — that have cost as many human lifetimes as Sensei’s Divining Top.”
-Patrick Chapin

Patrick and MichaelJ open on a tearful* goodbye to Sensei’s Divining Top. While the Top has drawn some bad press due to eating up the clock in recent years, there is no denying its contribution to a number of impossibly inventive decks. Cards from Kodama’s Reach to Shrapnel Blast to Counterbalance have all reached the top of the metagame.

Speaking of Banned Cards…

What will be obvious to you listening to this podcast is that the boys recorded “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” before this week’s last minute addendum to the Banned and Restricted list.

So yes, Patrick does a little Felidar Guardian + Liliana brewing… But there are still lots of other great nuggets in this episode (we think).

For instance:

Going Infinite with Anointed Procession

Anointed Procession + Eldrazi Displacer + Drowner of Hope is an infinite combo.

How does this work?

With Anointed Procession on the battlefield, Drowner of Hope will make four 1/1 tokens rather than just two.

It costs three total mana to activate Eldrazi Displacer; three mana will blink Drowner of Hope, putting the aforementioned four tokens into play. That means that you can net one token per cycle (again assuming Anointed Procession is there).

This combination gives you as many Icy Manipulators as you would like… Except they can also attack for infinite damage.

The advantage of this combination is that Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope are actually “good cards” rather than just combination pieces. After all, even if Anointed Procession is not part of your equation, Drowner of Hope is seven power across three bodies for “just” six mana.

Even without the Eldrazi, Anointed Procession is a surprisingly effective card.

How interested would you be in Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into this enchantment? Making two 0/1 Plant tokens per activation seems like a heck of a defense. How about good old Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Anointed Procession at the same time? Did the best card of the previous format get even better?

We shall see!

Put another way, if your deck is full of token makers, Anointed Procession will increase the impact of one and all.

No, this podcast is not mostly about this cool new combo. There is also Patrick’s argument that Zombies will be Tier One, Mike’s continued love of cycling, and of course some misplaced metagaming around Felidar Guardian.

Give “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” a listen now:

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* Okay maybe not that tearful in Patrick’s case.

Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10

Nissa, Steward of Elements
Nissa, Steward of Elements breaks — or at least bends — many rules

What an interesting Planeswalker!

What a glorious set of abilities!

A perceptive mage might even point out that Nissa’s casting cost is itself kind of a special ability… It is after all something special, something we haven’t seen before, at XGU.

For one thing, you can cast Nissa, Steward of Elements for a mere GU. This is not a typical play, though, as Nissa will go directly into the graveyard if you do so… But maybe that’s okay. Maybe you’re on the Delirium track and you are okay spending two mana to put the Planeswalker type into your graveyard. Or maybe you’ve previously cast an Oath of Gideon or Oath of Ajani, letting you get away with that cheat.

But even at 1GU Nissa is part of the rare breed of “three” mana Planeswalkers. The original Jace Beleren, as well as a number of Lilianas, have proven tournament Staples due to being only three mana. Nissa can come down for 1GU and immediately tick up with the [+2] to “start” at three loyalty (while giving you a nice look at the top of your library).

[+2] : Scry 2.

Nissa’s “plus” ability is perfectly serviceable. It’s not the most exciting plus ability, but it does a couple of things well in her context. As we’ve already said, starting the three mana version of Nissa at three loyalty is potentially solid. Especially early, the ability to add two loyalty to Nissa can act as a proxy for defending herself.

Separately, Scry 2 is extremely synergistic with Nissa’s second ability. Because it goes two deep you can know what you will hit, even after your next draw step, meaning you can theoretically ensure a 100% hit rate.

[0] : Look at the top card of your library. If it’s a land card or a creature card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of loyalty counters on Nissa, Steward of Elements, you may put that card onto the battlefield.

Nissa’s second ability is erratic, but potentially powerful. If you use the Scry 2 ability, you can ensure a hit… But you don’t 100% need to. If Nissa is already at very high loyalty you might be able to hit even a big fatty like Ulamog or Torrential Gearhulk. Your worst case is of course using Nissa blind and missing, but on the low(ish) end you can also just use this as a mana ramp ability.

It is not out of the question to use Nissa, immediately [0], hit a land, and have five or even six mana available the next turn. A more consistent play pattern might be to reveal two lands with [+2], draw one of the lands, and [0] the other into play. Three straight to five!

Nissa is probably going to draw fire for “not protecting herself” but that isn’t 100% the case. The [+2] gives Nissa a bit of resiliency, but the ability to even sometimes land a creature to block is also a measure of defense (though, again, not super consistent).

[-6] : Untap up to two target lands you control. They become 5/5 Elemental creatures with flying and haste until end of turn. They’re still lands.

This ability is what sets Nissa, Steward of Elements apart.

Who cares if she doesn’t defend herself if your intention is not to keep Nissa, Steward of Elements around? For the bargain price of eight mana (6GU) you can just Fireball your opponent for ten! Take ten in the air! Blammo!

The “take ten” [-6] is not the most flashy or powerful Ultimate in the history of Planeswalkers, but its speed is like nothing we have ever seen before. A Ramp deck can land this ability out of nowhere. We can even imagine consecutive turns of ten plus ten, winning with no non-Nissa-Ultimate damage.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin blows it all away with an additional observation:

“What if you just play her for nine?”

Nissa and Liliana are joined by Sphinxes, Beasts, and 2/2 flying tokens in “Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10”

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Amonkhet Brings NEW PERSPECTIVES

New Perspectives
New Perspectives, from Amhonkhet
MichaelJ and Patrick return for a special bonus episode! Top Level Podcast has an exclusive preview from Amonkhet.

When New Perspectives enters the battlefield, draw three cards.

New Perspectives starts more-or-less the best way a card can: By helping you draw three cards! In.

(Or, at least, we are interested in further exploration.)

Six mana is a bit steep for the ability to draw three cards, but Patrick claims that this card is actually a “draw four” … One of the cards is just a zero mana Fluctuator.

Because New Perspectives is a permanent rather than a sorcery (compare to Tidings), you can pick it up or blink it (perhaps with Felidar Guardian) to draw more and more.

As long as you have seven or more cards in hand, you may pay 0 rather than pay cycling costs.

This second line is what puts the “new” in the name. We aren’t just talking about a Fluctuator… This card is expensive but far more powerful.

For one, New Perspectives will handle colored mana in a cycling cost, not just discount a 2 to 0. It opens the door to some big opportunities. For instance, why not start with Archfiend of Ifnir on five, untap with the Demon still in play, and then run out New Perspectives? Having (or drawing into) just one or two cycling cards — TAPPED OUT — can totally swing the board.

This card represents — we think — a whole new way to play.

Check it out:

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Gideon of the Trials and More Amonkhet

Gideon of the Trials
Gideon of the Trials from Amonkhet
Gideon of the Trials is a splashy new Planeswalker from Amonkhet. There are lots of things going on with this card that are interesting.

First of all, it is only three mana. Like Jace Beleren and Liliana of the Last Hope before it, Gideon is likely going to find a way into appropriately-colored decks, just because it is so cheap. Conveniently, all three of Gideon’s abilities are meaningful and worthy of discussion.

[+1]: Until your next turn, prevent all damage target permanent would deal.

This is Mike’s favorite ability on the card.

Gideon of the Trials can completely shut off threat-poor decks; it is in fact outstanding against one threat at a time.

In addition, the [+1] is, in a roundabout way, a source of card advantage. You can force the opponent to play multiple threats by neutralizing the first one. He can be stuck losing an extra card to Fumigate, only to be stuck again a threat-and-a-half later.

This ability is also great against Heart of Kiran. Not only can you shut it off damage-wise (no matter what mode it is in), the fact that Heart of Kiran is Legendary means that you effectively shut off all the copies that are stuck in the opponent’s hand.

[0]: Until end of turn, Gideon of the Trials becomes a 4/4 Human Soldier creature with indestructible that’s still a planeswalker. Prevent all damage that would be dealt to him this turn.

If Gideon of the Trials only featured the middle ability, it would be comparable to True-Name Nemesis… a 4/4 “basically unstoppable” 4/4 for only three mana (but doesn’t play defense)? Pretty solid!

This is the most straightforward of Gideon’s three abilities. It’s basically always good any time you don’t want to be using the [+1].

[0]: You get an emblem with “As long as you control a Gideon planeswalker, you can’t lose the game and your opponents can’t win the game.”

Gideon’s emblem is a little tricky. It basically is an emblem that makes present or future Gideons into Platinum Angels. This can be powerful — For example you can lock out (or at least buy a turn from) certain combo decks. But most conventional decks that attack to beat you can attack Gideon instead. Not awful by any means, but not decisive generally, at least not in Standard.

All-in-all, Gideon of the Trials looks like the most powerful white card we’ve seen so far from Amonkhet.

There are lots of other cards discussed, as well, in this week’s episode! Give it a listen:

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Oh… And bonus episode tomorrow!

Glorybringer, the Gideon-Killer

Glorybringer
Glorybringer, from Amonkhet

Glorybringer, by the Numbers

The superficial analysis is this: Glorybringer is a five mana 4/4 Dragon in red. It brings both flying and haste. Flying and haste are two awesome abilities, in fact. It is reminiscent of past five drop dragons like Thundermaw Hellkite and especially Stormbreath Dragon.

Like Stormbreath Dragon, this 4/4 for five has a specialty. While Stormbreath Dragon was a powerful threat that could punish decks relying on Azorius Charm for point defense, Glorybringer is poised to punish creature decks and especially [other] mid-range decks.

Glorybringer: Comparing Five-Drops

Mike and Patrick are both wildly excited about Glorybringer. The card is powerful and can potentially be a fast clock.

Sadly, it does not automatically rule the sky… Or even rule the category of five mana 4/4 flyers.

Consider Archangel Avacyn. You might mistakenly think the coast is clear and send in to brain the opponent for four, or exert to kill a small creature.

Oops.

The way wasn’t clear, and the opponent can deploy a contextually-better 4/4. What happens is that Archangel Avacyn enters the battlefield and gives its team (including itself) indestructible. When Avacyn goes to block… It will smoosh Glorybringer, but live itself.

The only saving grace is that these indestructible Avacyn windows only last one turn (at least per angel).

Glorybringer, the Gideon-Killer

The real excitement around this card is its single-minded design of killing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar. Glorybringer has just the amount of power — and just the pinch of haste necessary — to come down and whack Gideon before the opponent can do very much about it. The really cool bonus here is that, due to the Exert option, you can take out Gideon’s Knight token, too.

Top Level Podcast also covers a number of other Amonkhet cards this week, from Trueheart Duelist (Mike’s favorite) to Dusk // Dawn (Patrick’s).

Join us!

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The Aven Mindcensor Masterpiece!

Aven Mindcensor Masterpiece
Aven Mindcensor is one of the first ever non-artifact Masterpieces!

Pro Tour Champion (and Patrick’s Team Top Level teammate) Craig Wescoe joins us to reveal a sweet Amonkhet Masterpiece!

Aven Mindcensor debuted in Future Sight. The Bird Wizard has been a favorite of “Hate Bears” fans ever since. It is perfect against cards like Evolving Wilds or Scalding Tarn… Because it has flash, you can respond to the activation of a search land, and really mess the opponent’s selection plan up.

Craig’s Aven Mindcensor Modern Deck

Aven Mindcensor is a perfect reveal for Craig. Not only is Craig generally famous for White Weenie-type deck play, he actually made Top 8 of Grand Prix Pittsburgh a few years back playing both it and Brimaz, King of Oreskos at the three. (Craig takes his Twitter handle from the latter three drop.)

GW Hate Bears

The Amonkhet Masterpiece Frame

From the top…

  • The top of the Masterpiece does in fact indicate the card’s name. I know it looks like some crazy hieroglyphic stuff, but if you look closely, that’s actually a font.
  • Ditto on the “type” line; this remains in fact a Bird Wizard.
  • Bolas, Bolas everywhere! Nicol Bolas is all over this card. Not only can you see the dragon’s iconic horns int he background of this image, but stylized versions appear at the bottom-left, bottom-right, and all around the center hologram.

We think you’ll agree that no matter what else, this is a really inventive and cool looking take on a reprinted card. Check out our full take:

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Your Hosts:

Special Guest Craig Wescoe – @brimaz4life

Patrick Chapin – @thepchapin
Mike Flores – @fivewithflores

Walking Ballista: The Best Card in Aether Revolt?

Walking Ballista
Walking Ballista combines flexibility, combo defense, and raw power.
Possibly the strongest card in Aether Revolt, Walking Ballista is the true inheritor to Hangarback Walker.

“There is such an incredible diversity of green-black decks, we have barely scratched the surface. The one thing they all have in common — at least the ones that win — they all have Walking Ballistas as far as the eye can see.”
-Patrick Chapin

Walking Ballista had a heck of a coming out party at the Columbus Open! Heavily featured in several different successful Golgari decks, this new Artifact Creature – Construct will have a massive impact on Standard for months or even years to come.

Walking Ballista can potentially find a home in green-white or other color combinations, but it may be at its best in green-black. This is because of the great synergy the card has with the many +1/+1 counter cards in that strategy.

  • Winding Constructor – The best buddy unique to green-black, Winding Constrictor on turn two allows you to drop Walking Ballista as a 2/2 on turn three (maybe even playing a land like Hissing Quagmire). After that, every four mana is actually worth two +1/+1 counters!
  • Rishkar, Peema Renegade – The combination of extra +1/+1 counters and ancillary mana ramp contribute both size and staying power to this great creature.
  • Nissa, Voice of Zendikar (or Verdurous Gearhulk) – These cards are great with any creatures, sometimes going wide, sometimes going tall… What about when they can give you an instant machine gun?

Walking Ballista is a value-laden creature. It is hard to trade with profitably, and is hell on little guys. Given time, it will take a game over all by itself. And of course, any and all synergies with green’s +1/+1 counter cards.

None of those things is the most important part of Walking Ballista, contextually.

Walking Ballista can break up (or at least slow down) the Saheeli Rai / Felidar Guardian combo by itself.

When Saheeli Rai first uses her [-2] ability to pair up with Felidar Guardian, she will momentarily drop to one loyalty. Even the smallest “Mogg Fanatic” Walking Ballista can execute her with ease. Will that stop an opponent unconditionally? Of course not. But it can buy you time… Time that you can use to just make bigger Walking Ballistas! At some point you can out-damage even a sandbagging Saheeli, or at 4/4 or greater, shoot down the Cat Beast instead.

This is just the beginning of this great card’s story in Standard:

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All the Ways to Play Saheeli Rai

Saheeli Rai
Saheeli Rai is suddenly the most popular Planeswalker from Kaladesh!
What are different ways we can play her?

We’ve touched before on the Saheeli Rai + Felidar Guardian combo…

There are many ways you can achieve nigh infinite damage. You can start on Saheeli Rai on turn three and follow up with Felidar Guardian on turn four; you can play Felidar Guardian on turn six, “blink” one of your lands, and then play Saheeli Rai. In either case the planeswalker will copy the Cat Beast, which will then blink the planeswalker. Rinse and repeat.

This combo is exceptionally powerful. It can do an amount of damage with almost no ceiling.

The combo is so compact (maybe eight slots in a deck) that it can be “fit” into not just decks that are dedicated to the combo itself, but hybridized in other strategies. Here are three places you might see Saheeli Rai in the upcoming Standard:

  1. A Control Deck – This version will be full of cards like Disallow and Torrential Gearhulk. This looks to be the intuitive way to build the combo in Standard; the problem is that — aside from Felidar Guardian blinking Torrential Gearhulk, neither card is particular good with the other fifty-two.
  2. A Ramp Deck – Not necessarily a green deck… Inspiring Statuary or other artifacts can work here.
  3. A 187 Deck – This deck would play cards like Pilgrim’s Eye or other value-rich creatures. The advantage here is that both Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian can be synergistic with the other creatures in a deck. Maverick Thopterist, for instance, can protect Saheeli Rai with multiple bodies, and also enjoy copy- and blinking-based 187 synergies.

How to Fight Saheeli Rai

Far and away the most common, and mana efficient, spoiler to this strategy is the simple Shock. Its inclusion in Aether Revolt may be almost prophetic; Shock has always been super cheap and reasonably flexible… It can add “combo killer” to its roles as quick creature defense and pillar of The Philosophy of Fire.

Saheeli Rai drops to Shock range when she moves to copy a Felidar Guardian, even if you spent the previous turn ticking her up.

The combo can be vulnerable to other interaction and removal (even a 1/1 Walking Ballista, if well placed); and Felidar Guardian is just a creature, if four toughness.

The Kitchen Sink

You may have seen Hall of Famer Raphael Levy Tweet about “Team Top Level” …

Cheer Patrick and the rest of Team Top Level on at PT Dublin and all year. The rest of these guys include multiple Pro Tour winners and the reigning World Champion. Go Team Top Level!

Patrick and Mike apparently had about an hour to talk NBA prior to recording this week’s episode. The NBA chats are immortal on the Patreon feed. The whole thing is patrons-only but we excerpted a little Insta video anyone and everyone can enjoy / check out / share:

Bring it, Saheeli Rai!

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Gifted Aetherborn and the “Fair” Side of Aether Revolt

Gifted Aetherborn
“Fair” card Gifted Aetherborn is a huge upgrade to a longtime favorite.

Aether Revolt is busted wide open… Right?

Much of the chatter around new set Aether Revolt is around its powerful combos and mana engines. Felidar Guardian is the most visible combo option at this point (one half of a Splinter Twin-like strategy in Standard), but it is not alone.

Crackdown Construct and Wandering Fumarole together create a single infinite/infinite attacker.

Inspiring Statuary threatens to headline an abusive new mana engine.

The widest of wides…

The tallest of talls…

However much mana you can tap…

This is the Aether Revolt we are all looking at, right?

It turns out that — in addition to the mana engines and sources of infinite damage — Aether Revolt is chock full of some of the tightest, most efficient, “nuts and bolts” cards in many sets. “Fair” Magic here we come!

Gifted Aetherborn is just one of many outstanding “fair” cards in a supposedly broken set.

Let’s talk about Gifted Aetherborn for a second… This is a creature that trades Vampire Nighthawk’s flying for a single mana. Wow, what a trade-off! Flying is nice, and it certainly mattered some of the time, but Vampire Nighthawk’s reputation was never made on the basis of flying.

Vampire Nighthawk was played — at least initially — due to its mix of enough toughness (3) to survive some fights, a “must kill” status as an anti-burn tool, and a continual source of value (or even card advantage) via its combat abilities. To wit: Vampire Nighthawk was a great 3-4-5 setup man Vampire into Huntmaster of the Fells and Thragtusk… The Nighthawk was itself a great stop sign against other Huntmasters.

But cutting a mana from three to two? Sure there is a mild decrease in functionality, but that’s like transforming Incinerate into Lightning Bolt! Consequently, Gifted Aetherborn is going to be an exciting “fair” card that will see a ton of play in a ton of different strategies.

But, like Felidar Guardian, Gifted Aetherborn is not alone…

  • Kari Zev’s Expertise – Mike is already partial to Threatens; this is the best Act of Treason ever printed. Think about playing Ancestral Vision for free in Modern!
  • Kari Zev, Skyship Raider – Somewhere between “a Watchwolf with upside” and “a red Brimaz” this card will be *ahem* bananas (Mike almost wants to play it in Modern)
  • Baral, Chief of Compliance – “It’s okay to play this card in decks with no Counterspells” – Patrick. “This card is better than Omenspeaker.” -Mike
  • Metallic Rebuke – Substantial upgrade to Spell Shrivel; turn two Metallic Rebuke is going to be really good friends with turn one Thraben Inspector.

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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.