How to Kill a Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant
Carnage Tyrant is one of the most important threats in Standard

Carnage Tyrant is an important card, a pillar of the entire Standard metagame. When this format debuted, the big Dinosaur was largely a mirror threat, a long-term answer to an opposing Golgari deck. You would land it, play Find // Finality to clear any non-Dinosaur creatures from the battlefield, finish the game with Carnage Tyrant.

But today, a renaissance of Carnage Tyrant is largely driven by the success of Jeskai. You see, Carnage Tyrant is as much as a three-of (alongside three copies of Vivien Reid) in some versions. Reid is there to kill Niv-Mizzet, Parun without triggering it; the Tyrant is for the opponent’s face.

The Jeskai Trio Can Kill Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant is one of the best cards against Jeskai! The irony is… Jeskai has several cards that can deal with it. Cleansing Nova and Settle the Wreckage are both efficient answers to multiple creatures (depending on what they’re doing). But the big weapon is Star of Extinction! The Star can deal 20 damage to any number of theoretically hexproof creatures, and take all the Planeswalkers with both of them!

The Eldest Reborn Can Be Great Against Carnage Tyrant

The Eldest Reborn can theoretically help against Carnage Tyrant. If you’re a black deck of some type, you will have to take care of all its friends first. Cards like Ritual of Soot can help with that; then The Eldest Reborn can show hexproof where it’s at.

Subtly, if you’re a discard deck with Disinformation Campaign or Thought Erasure, The Eldest Reborn — even if it’s not hitting Carnage Tyrant on turn five — can nab one from the bin [even] later in the game.

Unmoored Ego Can Hangle a Carnage Tyrant (or four)

And if you really, really, need to take care of a 7/6 Dinosaur that you can’t counter, and you can’t target later… You might want to consider Unmoored Ego. Largely a Grixis card due to its color constraints, Unmoored Ego may offer some defense to other hard-to-answer cards, like Banefire.

This week on the Top Level Podcast, we discuss these details and many more. The MOCS was full effect, so there is further discussion of Boros Weenie, tons of Jeskai, and many other looks at Control as well as this Golgari-centric threat talk. Give it a listen:

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Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Jeskai Control

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Playing Four Copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun changes just about everything

Adrian Sullivan, one of the true godfathers of Magic strategy, took down Grand Prix Milwaukee last weekend. And in true Adrian style, he did so with a unique deck… This time, a “Jeskai Control” with four copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

Playing four copies of that big threat (when most Jeskai play as few as zero main deck) changes the deck and its matchups at a fundamental level. Here are some of the meaningful ways how…

Dive Down becomes a plausible Magic: The Gathering card – Adrian played only seven creatures! Yet, two copies of Dive Down make sense… Relative to just a couple more Ionizes. Dive Down simply protects Niv-Mizzet when you’re on seven or more mana. You’re getting paid on multiple fronts, then hopefully untap with Niv-Mizzet in play.

Adrian’s deck plays a truly elegant mana base – Sullivan actually went down on lands relative to some other Jeskai decks… But it made more sense. There is not a single basic Plains. Why? Plains doesn’t cast Niv-Mizzet. Adrian still needed white for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or the odd Settle the Wreckage, but had the discipline to bias his mana base in favor of his unique creature decision.

Other Jeskai Decks quake in fear of main-deck Niv-Mizzet – Most of Adrian’s cards actually line up worse, card-for-card against other Jeskai decks. He can plausibly lose a lot of one-for-one battles. Unfortunately for the opponent, Adrian could win only one fight (say, over Niv-Mizzet, who can’t be countered) and with it, the game.

Adrian chose Treasure Map over Azor’s Gateway

We recently saw Elis Kassis play Azor’s Gateway to go alongside Expansion // Explosion and Banefire.

Adrian did something similar… He just played Treasure Map in that four-of slot. Treasure Map is less powerful for casting x-spells than Azor’s Gateway, but much more reliable. For Azor’s Gateway, you need to go to the well five times; not only that, but you have to hit five times. Conversely, Treasure Map will flip with three activations, every time.

The potential card advantage of Treasure Map lets it take up the Chemister’s Insight slot, but going much faster.

Big congrats to Adrian and his Jeskai deck.

Michael and Patrick take a nice long look at that deck, but also hit on the other main archetypes in Standard, including innovations for Golgari, Grixis, and Selesnya Tokens!

Check it all out now:

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The Three Styles of Boros Aggro

Boros
Boros Aggro took a whopping six of the Top 8 spots at Pro Tour Guilds of Ravnica.

Basic Mountain: Boros Aggro? Boros TOKENS!

PT Champion Jeremy Dezani showed us one of the new styles of Boros Aggro. Relative to the other decks in Top 8, this “redder” r-w deck had many points of differentiation when compared with the “whiter” or even mono-white builds.

Chief among this would be a missing Benalish Marshall. Benalish Marshall is very good… Unless you are playing lands that don’t tap for white.

Dezani played a whopping four basic Mountains!

These Mountains helped to support a couple of gold cards (two Boros Challengers, and two copies of Aurelia, Expmplar of Justice), but more importantly, four copies of Goblin Instigator.

Instigator is thematically appropriate for such a tokens-centric deck list. Jeremy played both Hunted Witness and Heroic Reinforcements; neither is an automatic four-of in Boros Aggro.

Mini-Soul Sisters: Ajani’s Pridemate in Boros Aggro

One of the most unique takes on Boros was played by Luis Scott-Vargas.

Luis and team “splashed” Ajani’s Pridemate into their White Weenie deck. This card starts off with a little bit of life gain with Healer’s Hawk. Adding Leonin Vanguard gives the Pridemate plenty of things use to grow Ajani’s Pridemate. The Pridement itslef can play a little bit of Tarmogoyf; it only costs two mana, but it can pack quite the punch. Given the limited spot removal of some of these white aggro decks, an Ajani’s Pridemate with too many +1/+1 counters is just going to kill you.

Rustwing Falcon: Trusty Rusty in Boros Aggro

One card you might have espied in the PT Guilds of Ravnica Top 8 is Rustwing Falcon.

“A 1/2 flyer for W?” you ask. “Why would you play this?”

There are two reasons:

  1. If you think people are going to play Healer’s Hawk — and all the Boros Aggro decks are playing between 2 and 4 copies — Rustwing Falcon rules the skies.
  2. Goblin Chainwhirler. The success of these White Weenie-type decks is largely predicated on people just not playing Mono-Red, and therefore being able to ignore its indiscriminate slaughter of x/1 creatures. Rustwing Falcon, with its two toughness, offers some incidental resistance to Goblin Chainwhirler.

The winning list, played by Andrew Elenbogen, went even lower: If 1/2 flyers make you scratch your head… What do you think about 0/3 dinosaurs?

Beyond Boros Aggro…

While there were six Boros decks in the Top 8, those slots were largely earned on Limited records. Consequently, Standard has lots more viable decks. And boy do we talk about them!

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Watch Out for Tocatli Honor Guard

Tocatli Honor Guard
Tocatli Honor Guard will be a main-deck four-of

Tocatli Honor Guard Just Got a Promotion

This card was previously largely a sideboard card; Patrick himself played it in his R/W Control deck as a foil for Energy triggers. Today, the Honor Guard is an amazing inclusion specifically to stifle the Golgari Midrange deck.

Golgari relies heavily on the 187 effects of its creatures. You cant — you actually can’t — remove a Tocatli Honor Guard from play with a Ravenous Chupacabra. Worse yet, Golgari will often he in a situation where it needs its Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger to hit lands.

With the Honor Guard in play?

If you started out manascrewed, you’re staying manascrewed.

Tocatli Honor Guard is Played in Boros and Selesnya

Both of the white aggro strategies played the Honor Guard at Grand Prix New Jersey.

For Boros, the Honor Guard took the spot of Knight of Grace. For Selesnya, playing this card means killing its own darlings. Simply, you don’t get to play your own Explore guys.

On the other hand, you really do beat up anyone relying on creature-based 187 engines. In addition, it is a 1/3 creature, and therefore, pretty good at blocking the Red Deck.

Don’t Sleep on Jeskai

Eli Kassis broke the Jeskai archetype wide open in New Jersey. Instead of Cracking Drake, Eli played Azor’s Gateway. Not only does this give him something to dow with his extra lands (especially given his enormous mana count) it flips consistently for Banefire and Expansion // Explosion. Azor’s Gateway into Sanctum of the Sun represents a meaningful different dimension for the control strategy. Banefire for, say 24 will be uncounterable.

Check it:

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Golgari Runs the Tables

Golgari

We’re just a couple of weeks into the new Standard and there is a clear current king: Golgari.

What makes Golgari so good?

The Standard b-g deck is basically a stack of two-for-ones. Most of them play Llanowar Elves, but believe it or not, some simply don’t!

Many of the Elves-less versions play as many as twelve two and three casting cost Explore creatures, meaning they have a very high likelihood of hitting their early land drops. They may sacrifice Llanowar Evles — one of the only cards consistently dominated by Goblin Chainwhirler — for the security and consistency of drawing all two-for-ones.

Explore two-for-ones like Merfolk Branchwalker are outstanding blockers, even when they trade. The b-g actually wants to put creatures into the graveyard for cards like the Findbroker or Find // Finality.

Basically: This strategy combines consistent early game draws and hitting land drops with a consistent flow of card advantage. In the absence of a blisteringly fast or over-the-top threat deck, that is a heck of a combo for Standard.

Golgari in Context

Standard b-g is an outstanding anti-beatdown deck. Not only do its early game creatures block and trade well, but you can gain access to cards like Wildgrowth Walker.

Not only does Wildgrowth Walker completely dominate cards like Viashino Pyromancer, it is just big enough to contain Knights from History of Benalia and many other small creatures. Of course, a deck with twelve Explore guys is going to make this card look fantastic. Turn two Wildgrowth Walker, turn three Jadelight Ranger?

That is, “give my Walker +2/+2, gain six, draw two cards… and still play a 2/1 creature”? Heck of a combo. Series of combos, even.

Sorry Red Deck: Meet Golgari

So Golgari draws extra cards every turn… Or kills your creature with its creature… Or gains size and life simultaneously… Can other decks compete on card advantage?

What about our darling from last week, Experimental Frenzy?

The problem is that on top of everything else, Golgari can remove almost any kind of permanent!

Vivian Reid can shoot enchantments like Experimental Frenzy and keep kicking. Moreover, Assassin’s Trophy is great at shooting at a big enchantment. On the other hand, Assassin’s Trophy is not good against Golgari generally… All of its guys are two-for-ones! How much card advantage do you want to give the opponent? As flexible as Assassin’s Trophy can be, it’s not at its best against Golgari.

Michael and Patrick give you the lowdown on how to approach this format-defining deck, whether you want to beat it… Or join it.

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Rekindling Phoenix and a Red Potpourri

Rekindling Phoenix
Rekindling Phoenix

Rekindling Phoenix in Grixis Control?

Mitchell Tamblyn may take the deck tuning cake this week. Tamblyn added Rekindling Phoenix to Grixis! His glut of super powered fours went over the top with that 4/3 addition. With cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Vraska’s Contempt, or of course Nicol Bolas, the Ravager; Mitchell was almost guaranteed to have a better four mana play than his opponent.

Patrick compares this choice to Mike’s famous tap-out Control deck, Jushi Blue. We can’t solve every problem in the world… But it is possible to make a better play, card-for-card and turn-for-turn than most enemies. This deck can obviously do that!

Imagine…

Who is going to match up with that lineup? Exactly.

Viashino Pyromancer
Viashino Pyromancer

Viashino Pyromancer is a Discounted Snapcaster Mage

“You don’t have to pay extra for the Shock!”

The Mono-Red Wizards deck seems like it’s here to stay. This deck is the real deal, and surprisingly nuanced for a deck full of one and two casting cost beaters.

Was Viashino Pyromancer the kind of card that got you all excited the first time you saw it? But it’s an awesome tool, in-archetype. Not only is it super cheap, but trading one for the usually outstanding Vraska’s Contempt must be soul-crusing for the opponent.

The Mono-Red Wizards deck typically plays land light… Maybe only 19 lands. When we say “nuanced” … Some of them play as many as two lands in the sideboard to get ahead!

Further, the deck can sideboard for a “durable card advantage engine” and completely outmaneuver the opponent. Mike tells a story about losing to a Wizards opponent who sided in Vance’s Blasting Cannons (like GP Top 8 competitor Bolun Zhang). He sided in all the cards that were good against fast and cheap creatures, and just found himself ground to death by burn spells and a card advantageous enchantment. Such a transformation is one of the key advantages of the archetype.

Give us a listen now!

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Wild About Wildgrowth Walker

“Wildgrowth Walker is basically Tarmogoyf + Loxodon Hierarch”
-Mike

So this is Wildgrowth Walker:

Wildgrowth Walker

Wildgrowth Walker: Positioned Well

Try as we might… Try as we might with all our Time Walks and Planeswalkers, Goblin Chainwhirler decks remain near the top of the Standard tournament scene. And where there are aggressive Red Decks, some Magicians will want to solve the problem with a solid, on-time, blocker. You know: Like Wildgrowth Walker.

Patrick points out, that like every Omenspeaker that has come before, this Elemental is a 1/3 for two mana. And 1/3 creatures for two mana a great at blocking Red Aggro.

But that’s not all!

Wildgrowth Walker is Actually Huge Sometimes

While it can come down on turn two to hold off, say, an Earthshaker Khenra, this Elemental is actually a big game itself sometimes.

The reason this came up this week at all is that Alexander Gordon-Brown did so well with his Sultai Midrange deck at Grand Prix Brussels.

That deck plays four copies of Merfolk Branchwalker and four copies of Jadelight Ranger. With so much redundancy on Explore creatures, Wildgrowth Walker is a plausible fatty for only two mana. Further, it can gain a lot of life. The latter is of course great against Red Decks and the former is great against everybody. Besides which, either setting up card advantage or setting up more Explore guys can be awesome.

Imagine:

  • Turn two Wildgrowth Walker
  • Turn three Jadelight Ranger

It’s on!

Potentially drawing two extra cards aside, you’ve got a 3/5 Elemental, have just gained six life, and might have more gas in hand. Did we mention “it’s on”?

This Deck Has All the Aces. Okay, “most of” the Aces

While “Wild About Wildgrowth Walker” features all kinds of decks — including 1996 Necropotence references and a shout-out to Worth Wollpert’s 1997 Regional Championships win with Air Elemental — Alexander Gordon Brown’s deck alone has a ton of awesome cards.

Not just these Explore guys. Not just the Walker. Yes to four copies of THE Scarab God. Yes to four copies of Hostage Taker (and the Blossoming Defenses to protect them)…

But somehow not Vraska’s Contempt?

The deck remains Mike’s favorite of the week by far. Plus our takes on how to improve it, and some of the other top cards and decks of the format!

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Palace Jailer Wins the Pro Tour!

Palace Jailer
Palace Jailer made two of the Top 4 Legacy decks at the Pro Tour… including the winning Death & Taxes!

Death & Taxes is a “High Tier One” Archetype in Legacy… Thanks to Palace Jailer

New addition Palace Jailer helps to catapult this strategy to a legitimately defining deck in Legacy.

Death & Taxes has performed for years… But largely as a metagame deck. For example, the presence of main-deck Karakas has helped the deck to foil Sneak and Show. Sneak and Show’s key creatures — Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn — are perfect targets for the Legendary Land.

But with Palace Jailer and other toys from Conspiracy: Take the Crown, the power level and flexibility of this already-viable deck has increased substantially.

Palace Jailer doesn’t quite work like Fiend Hunter

Fiend HUnter
Fiend Hunter

“Um… How do I become the monarch?”

“Well… Did you play with any cards that make you the monarch?”

Patrick notes that the Jailer offers exactly the kind of edge Mike loves. While Palace Jailer looks like another take on the Fiend Hunter mechanic, it actually relies on a unique Conspiracy: Take the Crown mechanic. Many players just won’t read the card and will snap Lightning Bolt the Jailer hoping to get their creature back… not realizing that they aren’t the monarch.

That makes Palace Jailer essentially a white Nekrataal that exiles creatures with no targeting restrictions. Not only can this card smash almost any creature in a 187 — permanently — it can work well with Flickerwisp and other old standbys of the Death & Taxes archetype.

Casual Sets contribute heavily to Death & Taxes

Containment Priest
Containment Priest

From Commander 2014
This card is an absolute monster against Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, or reanimation strategies.

Council's Judgment
Council’s Judgment

From Magic: The Gathering – Conspiracy
Council’s Judgment is like a Vindicate or Maelstrom Pulse that does extra damage against folks who don’t read the card. Here’s a hint: When the opponent casts this, agree with them. Otherwise, you could lose more permanents!

Recruiter of the Guard
Recruiter of the Guard

From Conspiracy: Take the Crown
This tutor helps search up cards like today’s Palace Jailer. Simply awesome in a deck with cards like Stoneforge Mystic, Containment Priest, and Aether Vial. Recruiter of the Guard can get you the right tool for the right matchup at the right time.

There was lots more to the Pro Tour than Death & Taxes and Palace Jailer. Check all the tech out here:

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Everything You Can Do With a Graveyard Marshal

Graveyard Marshal
Graveyard Marshal

  • Mana Cost: BB
  • Converted Mana Cost: 2
  • Types: Creature — Zombie Soldier
  • Card Text: 2B, Exile a creature card from your graveyard: Create a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.
  • Flavor Text: “Rise and shine, my dears. We have work to do.” —Isareth the Awakener
  • P/T: 3 / 2
  • Expansion: Core Set 2019 (Rare) Core Set 2019
  • Rarity: Rare
  • Card Number: 99
  • Artist: Mark Behm

Graveyard Marshal is Helping to Make Zombies Happen

The SCG Classic in Indianapolis this past weekend featured not one but two Zombies decks in the Top 8!

One of them, played by Joshua Satterfield, was the winner.

Graveyard Marshal is one of the most important new cards in this strategy. In fact, the two drop from Dominaria does a ton of things that the deck wants. The first and most obvious is that Graveyard Marshal is an aggressive three-power creature for only two mana.

I mean… So is Scrapheap Scrounger.

But that’s not all. Not only can Graveyard Marshal actually block, but it’s a Zombie!

So you can go…

  1. B Diregraf Ghoul
  2. BB Graveyard Marshal
  3. BB1 Death Baron!

Boom!

You can truck in for a massive seven damage on turn three this way. Speaking of blocking (you know, the thing Scrapheap Scrounger doesn’t do well), any Zombies will trade up like champions with Death Baron buffing them.

Graveyard Marshal Can Frustrate The Scarab God

Everyone knows how powerful The Scarab God can be. It is a massive card advantage engine that can go completely over the top of foolish midrange decks with good creatures.

You know who can spit in the eye of The Scarab God and its four mana reanimation ability? Graveyard Marshal. The opponent has to leave up 2BU to try to make a 4/4 Zombie. The Marshal can hang back with an economical 2B to pre-empt The Scarab God’s attempt. At some point you’ll just run out of creatures. Which is fine (because you’re not getting annihilated by The Scarab God).

Putting it All Together with Graveyard Marshal

Zombies just might be the dark horse strategy to bust open this weekend’s Pro Tour.

With Diregraf Ghoul and Dread Wanderer at the B, it has an eight-pack of two power creatures for one.

There is an equal number of three power creatures for two.

It’s not just that Zombies plays eight Lords on three… It has Liliana’s Mastery too! This strategy has an almost unending number of ways to generate advantages and buff already aggressive creatures.

The big differentiation between this deck and StOmPy though is the creature elimination. Zombies has a ton of green’s aggression, but has great removal including Vraska’s Contempt (one of the best cards in the format overall).

Zombies is just the beginning of this week’s exciting podcast…

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Nicol Bolas, the Ravager Rules the Skies

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
The world belongs to Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. We just live in it.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager didn’t quite win

We’ll talk a bunch about Nicol Bolas, both here and on the podcast… But it’s important to note that despite three appearances in the Top 8 (three-Bolas each time), Grixis finished second.

The top performing deck of the tournament was actually StOmPy! Already one of the strong archetypes last format, StOmPy added a tight little two-drop that is appearing as a four-of in almost every list:

Thorn Lieutenant
Thorn Lieutenant

Thorn Lieutenant is actually easier to cast than Elvish Warrior… But retains its 2/3 body. On top of that are a pair of powerful abilities. Imagine how cool the token-making ability might be with Blossoming Defense!

Thorn Lieutenant’s pump ability is deceptively relevant. Do you play it every game? No. Do you want to be in a position to use it in most games? Still probably not. But you’ll be happy it’s there sometimes! StOmPy gets tangled in a surprising number of games where its mana is plentiful but its drops are best suited for early game.

Great that Thorn Lieutenant can essentially suit himself up!

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager out-stripped other control cards

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager appeared in three decks at the recent Classic. All three decks played three copies. This put Bolas at a higher level of play, generally, than incumbent control finishers Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God.

For example, Todd Stevens placed fifth with:

  • 3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
  • 2 Torrential Gearhulk
  • 2 The Scarab God

There was a decent amount of variation among these decks, with no consensus around Arguel’s Blood Fast or Search for Azcanta. A possible sign of a sea change in the format? Four main-deck copies of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in Jonathan Job’s second-place list. Who’s afraid of Goblin Chainwhirler?

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is four-of sometimes, too!

Mike’s favorite Bolas build was Trevor Mensinger’s 11th place deck.

Unlike the Top 8 decks, Trevor played a Dragon-centric Red Deck. He not only ran four copies of Nicol Bolas, but four Glorybringers and a pair of Demanding Dragon! Much of the rest of Trevor’s deck were typical Red Deck cards like Scrapheap Scrounger, Pia Nalaar, and Unlicensed Disintegration. The red-centered deck employed Sarkhan, Fireblood to great effect. Not only did the new planeswalker help deploy Dragons, but could discard Spit Flame for more and more card advantage!

For those few listeners who are interested in non-Dragon-centric topics, this podcast discusses when you should play Lyra Dawnbringer, Viashino Pyromancer, and Sifter Wurm. Check it out!

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