Everybody Hates Earthshaker Khenra

Earthshaker Khenra
Sorry, Earthshaker Khenra. Your window may have already closed 🙁
Well… Maybe

Sylvan Advocate Hates Earthshaker Khenra

Sylvan Advocate
On the way to yet another Grand Prix Top 8, Standard superstar Brad Nelson time traveled and re-innovated the B/G Winding Constrictor deck last weekend, bringing back Sylvan Advocate over Grim Flayer or Longtusk Cub at the two.

Sylvan Advocate? What is this? 2016?

Grim Flayer is great. Longtusk Cub is great. Even Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can be pretty effective. You know what’s even better? Three toughness.

Sylvan Advocate comes down as a 2/3 (forget about its size in the future)… Meaning that it can withstand a Shock on turn two, unlike the other B/G two drop options. As a 2/3, it also pwns tiny 2/1 Earthshaker Khenra.

And at 4/5? It chomp Chomp CHOMPS even a 4/4 Earthshaker Khenra later in the game!

Approach of the Second Sun Hates Earthshaker Khenra

Mike’s sidekick over at the Ancestral Recall Podcast, Roman Fusco made another Star City Games Classic Top 8 last weekend… This time with an innovative U/W Approach of the Second Sun deck designed by Roman’s frequent collaborator (and Regional Finals victim) Dan Ward.

This U/W deck is truly creature-less (and for purposes of Torrential Gearhulk, artifact-less). That completely blanks Earthshaker Khenra teammate Abrade. While haste is helpful across many of the Mono-Red deck’s creatures, the ability to prevent blocking also takes up relevant space on the text box. Against no creatures? No additional value.

But the thing that really, really hates the Red Deck?

Unsummon

Unsummon!

The old school instant has an amazing superpower against Mono-Red. If the opponent has one card in hand only, you can Unsummon another creature (putting a second card in the opponent’s hand) to blank an attack by Hazoret the Fervent. And of course, if you Unsummon the 4/4 backside on an Earthshaker Khenra, that will be that.

This should surprise no one, though: Approach of the Second Suns decks hate Earthshaker Khenra.

Grasp of Darkness Hates Earthshaker Khenra

Grasp of Darkness
Grasp of Darkness really, really hates Hazoret the Fervent… But will settle for murdering a hasty Jackal Warrior, let’s be honest.

Grasp’s new teammate Gifted Aetherborn, though… 2/3 over 2/1 again, etc. etc. And if the Red Deck needs to spend its second turn pointing an Abrade at Gifted Aetherborn? It won’t even have time to drop Earthshaker Khenra on curve.

To find out what other cards and decks are creating a hostile Standard environment for our poor Jackal Warrior, check out this week’s episode!

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How ’bout Them Ramunap Ruins?

Ramunap Ruins
Ramunap Ruins may be the most important new card from Hour of Devastation.
Earthsaker Khenra? Yeah! That’s a great creature, we’ll grant you… But it’s still just a creature. Ramunap Ruins can’t be countered and gives players a resource to lean against instead of flooding out.

This land enters the battlefield untapped. It essentially has the superpoower of tapping for both red and colorless; it can support Eldrazi Obligator (or Reality Smasher), not just a purely red creature rush.

Ramunap Ruins finishes off control players. The idea of locking down Standard with counterspell control decks will be a thing of the past. Eight life? Ten life? What life do you think it is safe to stabilize? As long as it has enough Deserts, Ramunap Ruins will work to close out games. This will make for a really tough metagame for U/R Control.

Ramunap Ruins can enjoy a critical mass of haste. This is the true golden age of Red Decks. This might be the most important card on the list, but being able to tap it on turn one for a Bomat Courier; then turn two for an Earthshaker Khenra; then maybe dip into a Lathnu Hellion on turn three is an embarassment of (hasty) riches.

It is not good enough, however to drive Arborback Stomper to playability.

Give this week’s episode a listen now:

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Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is Already Getting Around

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is already exceeding expectations
So how are we going to play Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh? There are so So SO many ways!

Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in a Planeswalker Control Deck

Michael Hamilton opened up the new season with a win. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh made a one-of appearance in his [otherwise] Jeskai Control deck.

A dedicated Planeswalker control deck with lots of cards that can interact with the opponent’s threats is a great home for Nicol Bolas. It’s a redundancy on your other permanents, can borrow against the architecture of the rest of your deck, and ultimately just presents an even more powerful threat than the rest of your deck.

Bolas Beatdown

You can play an Energy Aggro deck, complete with Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra… And just finish with Bolas.

This use of the card just requires you to deal thirteen damage in the first seven turns. Pretty trivial, right? You can just play the big Planeswalker for seven, to deal seven. Not only is Nicol Bolas the best “Demonfire” we’ve had in years (especially given the seven-for-seven mana cost)… If for some reason something went wrong, you would still have a Planeswalker to help over the next few turns.

An Energy deck is actually particularly great for this… Because Energy is somewhat spotty to come by, you might find yourself stranded with Nicol Bolas in hand, but not the mana to cast it. The Aether Hubs of the Energy strategy go a long way in ensuring the solo black (or whatever is needed) is available, versus being stranded as a colorless.

Meanwhile…

With Bolas at both extremes of the metagame, there remains a wide number of decks, from Mono-Red StOmPy to U/R Prowess Burn. This podcast covers them all most:

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The Real Cost of Bontu’s Last Reckoning

Bontu's Last Reckoning
Bontu’s Last Reckoning costs three mana. That’s great! Isn’t it?
What a difference a week makes!

… Depending on what continent you are on.

The Return of Spell Queller in Manila

Spell Queller
The biggest disconnect with recent history IN THE WORLD took place at Grand Prix Manila. We saw the return of the U/W Flash deck… Now featuring Glory-Bound Initiate.

The U/W Flash archetype (and friends like Esper Vehicles) benefit somewhat by a decline in popularity of Mardu Vehicles… Our assessment is that the Heart of Kiran in Mardu Vehicles would run over the comparatively clunky U/W.

But U/W Flash is not about fighting Mardu. Aetherworks Marvel, on the other hand, is a perfect victim of Spell Queller. Basically, Dispel and Negate are the most common “cover” spells for Aetherworks Marvel at five and six mana, respectively… You can neither Negate nor Dispel a Spell Queller. On the other hand, Spell Queller’s 2/3 body is perfect for putting Marvel on a clock.

Ulvenwald Hydra and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Ulvenwald Hydra
No surprise that Aetherworks Marvel took down a US Grand Prix this weekend past.

No surprise that Standard master Brad Nelson was at the winning deck’s helm.

What’s cool? What’s different?

Brad used Ulvenwald Hydra to great effect in his build’s sideboard… Kind of “the difference that makes the difference.”

Basically, Ulvenwald Hydra was Brad’s “Nissa’s Renewwal” … An expensive green creature, but not nearly as expensive as Ulmamog. Brad could use the Hydra to make a huge threat on its own, but also as an accelerator. If he got Shrine of the Forsaken Gods he would be one two mana closer to hard casting any Ulamogs stuck in his hand.

Dissenter’s Deliverance is the Choice of Champions

’nuff said.

Bontu’s Last Reckoning and Our First Look at Hour of Devastation

In addition to lots of decks from three Grand Prix across three continents we hit on the three now-known cards from Hour of Devastation. The most interesting topic for this section is probably around the cost of Bontu’s Last Reckoning.

Ostensibly, this card costs three mana. That means that it has some synergy with Goblin Dark-Dwellers or certain Expertise cards. It would be a mistake to say that it is just a cheaper Damnation; the fact that it costs three is less of an advantage in most games (how big or dangerous are the creatures coming at you on turn three versus turn four). If you cast it later in the game, the mana restriction is actually pretty disadvantageous.

Net-net, though, we think it will be heavily played.

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How Many Copies of Pull from Tomorrow?

Pull from Tomorrow
With the rise of U/R Control in Standard, Pull from Tomorrow reaches center stage…
or does it?

U/R Control (generally with Pull from Tomorrow) really took off last weekend!

U/R Control made Top 8 of both Grand Prix Montreal and Grand Prix Santiago. This was a big pickup, post-Pro Tour, for an archetype that did not crack Top 8 at PT Amonkhet.

In Montreal, Maxime Aubin played only a single Pull from Tomorrow.

But in Santiago, Niels Noorlander made numerous departures in his Top 8 deck…

  • Only 24 land! For contrast, Aubin played 26 and (at Pro Tour Amonkhet Patrick played 27)
  • 3 copies of Sweltering Suns (instead of just one or two)
  • Just 3 copies of Censor (which seems odd given only 24 lands)…
  • But 4 Hieroglyphic Illumination! (maybe this helps out his low land total)

Hieroglyphic Illumination versus Pull from Tomorrow

Pull from Tomorrow is the more powerful card, sure; comparable (and maybe even better than) Sphinx’s Revelation. The problem? It’s basically always expensive. So expensive, that in a pressure filled format this ace has been reduced to as few as one copy main deck.

Can you realistically slot in Hieroglyphic Illumination?

Hieroglyphic Illumination is almost always going to be worse that Glimmer of Genius… Provided you plan on casting it. (Scry being as valuable as it is)

On the other hand, Hieroglyphic Illumination has another mode!

  • If you are going to cycle it, U is a great (and cheap) way to go
  • Putting an instant in your graveyard is great when you are a deck with four copies of Torrential Gearhulk
  • Upping your one mana cycliers so much may justify lowering your land counts

U/R Control in Context

Tons of removal, one-for ones, and card advantage make for a great lineup against Zombies.

Permission, consistent ability to hit land drops, and card drawing make U/R a contender against Aetherworks Marvel.

Put it all together? You might have a real option against the most popular decks from Pro Tour Amonkhet.

Check out “How Many Copies of Pull from Tomorrow?” for more discussion on these cards, plus G/R Energy, Bant Marvel, and more!

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Mastering Liliana’s Mastery

Liliana's Mastery
Liliana’s Mastery was center stage for the Top 8 of Pro Tour Amonkhet

How many copies of Liliana’s Mastery are you supposed to play?

This is an interesting question to be sure!

Pro Tour Amonkhet winner Gerry Thompson (shout out to @g3rryt) played three copies in his mono-black Zombies deck.

You can certainly defend the Mastery as a three-of (“If Gerry did it, it was right.” -Patrick), but there are some pros and cons to this decision. The Zombies archetype would certainly play fewer than twenty-four lands if it didn’t have a five drop at the top of the curve… Does it make sense, ultimately, to cut a copy?

How about two?

First-time Top 8 competitor (and onetime Top 8 Magic Mockvitational winner) Christian Calcano (shout out to @CCalcano) cut another! Christian’s deck was very similar to Gerry’s, just trading one Liliana’s Mastery for an additional fast removal spell.

On the other hand, the black-white version played all four copies (at the cost of a couple of two drops).

So what is the right number?

If you think Zombies is the ascendent archetype (it did just win the PT) you may want to play all four copies. To be fair, even two-of Calcano ran the other two Liliana’s Masteries in his sideboard.

Liliana’s Mastery is an Asymmetrical Crusade

It’s not just a Crusade, it’s a Grizzly Fate. It’s a giant, spread across multiple bodies.

For five mana, you get two 2/2 Zombies… But they are automatically 3/3 by default due to the enchantment itself. It’s cool, especially in a mirror, to make all your Zombies bigger, but that’s not all.

At the point that you are hitting five drops, you really just want to draw more and more of this thing. You get card advantage two-for-one and all your Zombies get bigger and bigger, snowballing the advantage.

Liliana’s Mastery Killed Verdurous Gearhulk

Poor Verdurus Gearhulk.

Not long ago it was the huge five-drop of choice, kicking Ishkanah out of B/G top ends. It could be a big body itself, or it could spread value across multiple bodies. Especially with Winding Constrictor, Verdurous Gearhulk could create an immediate and compelling swing.

Liliana’s Mastery just does the same thing, better.

Same cost, similar impact.

Except when it isn’t.

The Gearhulk is 8/8 on the low end whereas the Mastery is “only” 6/6… But the Mastery is across two different bodies. It can also potentially spread even more damage, depending on how many Zombies you already have.

And if you are B/W?

It is great with both Binding Mummy and Wayward Servant, creating multiple triggers even as it buffs the two-drop.

Check out mad strategies for both Zombies and Marvel in “Mastering Liliana’s Mastery”

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Getting Familiar with Kefnet the Mindful

Kefnet the Mindful
Kefnet the Mindful rewards familiarity with common play patterns

Amonkhet Gods versus Theros Gods

WotC R&D did a great job of echoing the aesthetics of the Theros gods with cards like Kefnet the Mindful. For example, Kefnet shares a casting cost with Thassa, God of the Sea. Both creatures are indestructible. Both require special conditions before they can attack or block.

Unlike their Theros cousins, Amonkhet Gods start off as creatures. Even if Kefnet the Mindful can’t attack or block, it can, say, crew a Heart of Kiran. While that is pretty good (Thassa is just an enchantment before you have sufficient devotion to blue), it also exposes Kefnet to interaction.

“Indestructible” isn’t as Indestructible as it Used to be

Amonkhet provides all kinds of ways to interact with an indestructible creature like Kefnet the Mindful. Even the new cycling islands like Irrigated Farmland and Fetid Pools have reawakened the incentive to play Engulf the Shores. So while vanilla damage might not be able to kill Kefnet, your opponents may well have tools. For example:

Cast Out – Cast Out can handle any type of permanent. Being indestructible doesn’t protect Kefnet from being exiled.

Commit // Memory – Bounce-type spells are great against Kefnet. Not that they are so much better against Kefnet than other creatures, but a card like Commit // Memory ignores one of the main features of the card that you are paying for.

Oath of Liliana – Perhaps most depressing, the opponent can just lay an Oath of Liliana, killing a Kefnet that is theoretically indestructible, even if it isn’t primed to attack or block yet.

Kefnet the Mindful’s Mental Shortcuts

The rules of engagement have changed dramatically with the introduction of Amonkhet to Standard. For example having one mana open means something very different than it did a few months back. You can cycle a Censor… or pay for a Censor. Or (especially in sideboard games) you can cast a Dispel.

Kefnet the Mindful by itself implies a surprising number of tactical play patterns. Check out these…

If you have only four cards in hand at the end of the opponent’s turn, you can attack even if you are tapped out.
When you untap, you go from four cards to five. Activate Kefnet once, return a land to your hand, and you are already at seven. Get in there!

If the opponent has exactly seven cards in hand, cast your test spell before he attacks
If he counters it, he will go below seven cards in hand, and will be unable to attack.

You don’t have to choose whether you want to pick up a land until after the card draw resolves
This is a generally good thing to know, but is particularly awesome if you have six mana and want to be able to cast a three mana Counterspell. Tap four mana to draw a card; if it is a land that comes into play untapped, play it and you will be able to Cancel. If you don’t draw one, though, you can pick up and re-play one of your other lands to get there!

Sound interesting? This episode also features more Mardu Vehicles, Zombies, and all manner of control decks. Give “Getting Familiar with Kefnet the Mindful” a listen now:

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Breaking Glory-Bound Initiate

Glory-Bound Initiate

“Build your own Baneslayer Angel” with Glory-Bound Initiate

Glory-Bound Initiate is making an immediate impact on Standard. A 3/1 creature for only two mana, even the “vanilla” mode on this card can prove a fast clock. That’s a heck of a fail state!

When you actually exert Glory-Bound Initiate, things get interesting. As a 4/4 lifelink creature, Glory-Bound Initiate is a potentially great racer. It is tactically quite layered. The card is well named: You tend to have the initiative with it in play.

Will you send a 3/1?

How many creatures does he have to hold back if you exert in a 4/4 lifelink?

Subtly, this card on two gives you an incentive to build around the exert mechanic.

Always Watching is great with any exert creatures. With Glory-Bound Initiate, you get to “build your own Baneslayer Angel” … Even attacking for five on turn three!

  • Glory-Bound Initiate is a 3/1 on turn two.
  • Always Watching makes it 4/2 as a base.
  • When you attack — and exert — the Initiate becomes a 5/5 with vigilance!
  • Since it never actually taps (due to vigilance) there is no liability around Exert and the untap.

While Zach’s build only has one exert creature main deck, it is a go-wide strategy that can still benefit from Always Watching. Plus, he has a heck of another exert guy in the sideboard.

Glory-Bound Initiate is Only Human

Glory-Bound Initiate is a human warrior. Played with other humans, this card is really effective with Thalia’s Lieutenant. In addition to white creatures, Zach proved ingenius with his inclusion of red main deck.

All the humans — from Expedition Envoy forward — are great with Thalia’s Lieutenant. Hanweir Garrison, though, can trigger it multiple times per turn.

The sideboard is outstanding

Three fours. One three. Perfect.

Zach played four Needle Spires in the sideboard; consequently, he could support four Glorybringer and four Gideon, Ally of Zendikar! His sideboard actually allowed Zach to transform into more of a powerhouse midrange deck (from his fast start White Weenie main deck).

Embrace Variance

Patrick released a new song on YouTube this week. You can listen to the full song as the outro to this podcast, or just check it out here:

Listen now:

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Mastering Dynavolt Tower

Dynavolt Tower
Given enough time, Dynavolt Tower will win the game for you, itself.

One of the under-appreciated synergies in Temur Tower — a key upgrade from its roots as a straight U/R deck — is the inclusion of Attune with Aether. It’s not just that Attune with Aether helps set up a base of energy (you can have two or more energy in reserve when you first lay your Dynavolt Tower), it’s the impact late game.

Think about a deck with twenty-five or even twenty-six lands. You don’t gain energy by drawing a land. But an Attune with Aether? Substituting a land with Attune with Aether one-for-one makes these late-game topdecks worth four energy. Bang!

Keeping a strong energy reserve fuels your Dynavolt Tower. And given enough time, the Tower will win the game for you by itself.

Patrick calls Victor Fernanado Silva’s Temur Dynavolt Tower deck “a masterpiece” …

Victor Fernanado Silva won the most recent Standard Grand Prix, breaking up the two-point-five deck metagame of Mardu and Saheeli Rai with Temur Tower’s first big win. Silva killed some Dynavolt darlings, and presented a version meaningfully different from other Dynavolt Tower control decks we’ve seen. Most notably, the creatures.

Instead of playing any Rogue Refiners, Silva played “only” four Torrential Gearhulks.

Torrential Gearhulk ups the power of the archetype… While in a Shock-heavy format, it’s unclear that Rogue Refiner would ever even have blocked.

Perhaps even more telling was Silva’s emphasis on control in his build.

Dynavolt Tower Control

Ten. Count ’em. There are ten permission spells in that main deck. Negate and Horribly Awry? More copies of Void Shatter than Disallow at the three? Silva was able to take advantage of a predictable metagame to choose the right answers to solve the format’s problems.

Per Patrick: A masterpiece.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores discuss not just Dynavolt Tower but all the key moves and trends to keep you up to date on Standard in “Mastering Dynavolt Tower”

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Leaning on a Basic Mountain

Basic Mountain
At GPNJ, Hall of Famer Ben Stark ran his red splash on one basic Mountain

Ben Stark broke up a generally two-deck format (Mardu Vehicles and Saheeli Rai combo) with a rogue Jund aggro deck. His Jund deck, reminiscent of one from the Top 8 of Pro Tour Aether Revolt, adds red for Unlicensed Disintegration only.

This week Patrick Sullivan joins us to discuss the one Basic Mountain in Ben Stark's GPNJ Top 8 list (and many other topics)!

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Unlicenced Disintegration only. Yeah – it’s that good.

Otherwise Ben’s deck is a B/G Energy deck. He played Greenbelt Rampager and Longtusk Cub as fast and energy-rich threat creatures. Per usual Winding Constrictor combined with both +1/+1 counters and energy counters for wide and dramatic impact.

Surprising, maybe, was that Ben’s deck played only two copies of Verdurous Gearhulk. This was a deck that was not particularly interested in going toe-to-toe with conventional B/G decks. Not only was it likely out-Gearhulk’d, but its sideboard grinding options like Gonti, Lord of Luxury just bring it to main deck par with versions like Brad Nelson’s.

Instead it has the one basic Mountain.

Finding Your Basic Mountain

Given that one card is the defining “difference that makes the difference” that makes this deck, finding it is pretty important. Yes, Ben’s deck does play Aether Hub. Not only does that land tap for red in a pinch, you can easily imagine catching someone with Unlicensed Disintegration out of nowhere. However the basic Mountain is an important source of red. Ben could find it with one of four Attune with Aethers or three Evolving Wilds.

Mike suggests that perhaps only one Hissing Quagmire (versus the two Ben played) is correct, in deference to a fourth Evolving Wilds.

“If it’s wrong,” retorts our special guest, “it’s not wrong by much.”

Enter the Rainmaker

Who better to guest star in an episode focused on mana bases than @basicmountain himself, Rainmaker Patrick Sullivan?

PSulli joins Patrick Chapin & MichaelJ in a discussion of how to find one basic Mountain, and whether 21 or 26 lands is right for Torrential Gearhulk decks.

Check out “Leaning on a Basic Mountain” now:

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Your Hosts:

Patrick Chapin – @thepchapin
Michael J Flores – @fivewithflores
Patrick Sullivan – @basicmountain