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

Unlicensed Disintegration & U/R Improvise

Unlicensed Disintegration
Unlicensed Disintegration is one of the defining cards of the current Standard… And is probably too good.

Unlicensed Disintegration is an odd one. “Orzhov” decks will splash red for it. Seemingly two-color red-green decks will go Jund for it. Why? At least in the context of Standard, it’s just too good.

Compare Unlicensed Disintegration and Murder. Both are three mana. Both destroy a creature at instant speed. Theoretically the different color on Unlicensed Disintegration is a disincentive (though one you get paid a lot for). The crazy thing is that Unlicensed Disintegration can actually be easier to play than the one-color Murder in many decks! Artifacts or no, it can just be smoother than finding a second black mana.

Of course the presence of artifacts goes a long way with this card.

Patrick makes the obvious comparison to Blightning:

“Mind Rot… Not the greatest card. Fringe / almost playable. Add three damage and it’s warping.”

Unlicensed Disintegration takes a better-than-fringe playable card (Murder) and tacks a “Lava Spike cantrip” to it. The ask of having an artifact in play is so trivial for the dominating Mardu decks. Their Thraben Inspector gives you artifacts. Their Heart of Kiran is an artifact! It’s even cool for Grixis decks to play just Torrential Gearhulk as an artifact (to again enable Unlicensed Disintegration).

Will it get banned on Monday? Patrick sure hopes so!

Our intrepid duo talk not only Unlicensed Disintegration the card, but compare the two main schools of Mardu.

… And then go in a completely different direction!

The Improvise Deck Patrick Almost Played at PT Aether Revolt:

Patrick's UR Improvise deck. We discuss it and more in this week's podcast.

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“Unlicensed Disintegration & U/R Improvise” is a Standard cheat sheet. If you are looking to grok Standard prior to Monday’s changes, look — rather, listen — no further.

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Should We Ban Scrapheap Scrounger?

Scrapheap Scrounger
This is going to sound weird. Are we finally appreciating Scrapheap Scrounger?

Okay.

We already invoked the b-word. Ban.

Is Scrapheap Scrounger the kind of card that should get banned?

Swiss Army Scrounger

It’s honestly not crazy. Scrapheap Scrounger has a lot going for it… Maybe too much. Scrapheap Scrounger is (obviously) resilient against removal, and gives its players long-term opportunities to generate card advantage. The problem, of course (well, one of the problems, anyway) is that it can go into so many different decks. At the end of the last format we saw some U/W decks bending towards black to buy it back. Today Scrapheap Scrounger is therefore not just a Staple card in colorless-heavy decks (like Mardu Vehicles) but is starting to see play in some versions of B/G, even. Delirium decks are cutting Grim Flayer for it!

Two Two Drops

Of all the great things that Scrapheap Scrounger offers, perhaps the most contextually important is that with three power (for only two mana!) it can crew a Heart of Kirin. Besides the return on three power for two mana being pretty good in and of itself, Pro Tour Aether Revolt showed us the lengths players will go to to play mostly (or all) creatures that can crew that legendary vehicle.

Reasonable players are cutting everything from Walking Ballista to Winding Constrictor to accommodate only threats that can consistently crew.

The Solution to Grinding

Standard right now has got a lot of grinding and trading. A single card that can trade, card-for-card / mana-for-mana but by itself offer additional card advantage is inherently valuable in this kind of a context. Mass removal like Fumigate can be great against Mardu Vehicles or one of the B/G decks… Scrapheap Scrounger can ensure that you always have crew for your mighty Heart of Kiran, or at least have a threat of some sort, even without the vehicle, even through Fumigate.

This week’s episode:

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One of These Decks Will Be the Most-Played at PT Dublin…

One of these two...

One of these decks will be the most played archetype at PT Dublin…

Will it be “Copy Cat”, that combination of Saheeli Rai and Felidar Guardian?

Will it be one of the many flavors of green-black (or should we say black-green) Delirium Energy? Grim Flayer or Glint-Sleeve Siphoner?

… One of these two will be the most played archetype at Pro Tour Dublin 🙂

Innovations in Copying Cats… Cut a Cat?

The once and (presumably) future king, Dylan Donnegan took down the most recent SCG Open with his take on Copy Cat Control… A true Jeskai Control deck, Donnegan went with multiple copies of Fumigate main deck, and cut one of his sacred cows (err… cats)!

How did he accomplish this?

Enter: Nahiri, the Harbinger

Nahiri, the Harbinger does something special in this deck. For one thing, it is synergistic with Donnegan’s strategy as a Control deck. Nahiri’s [+2] ability is reminiscent of the value offered by Oath of Jace to this strategy. As a Control deck, you can often have the “wrong” answer… Fumigate against an opposing defensive deck, say. You can also dump an instant for purposes of being flashed back by Torrential Gearhulk (whether you cast Torrentual Gearhulk or use Nahiri to find it).

Nahiri lets Jeskai Control-type decks to go Superfriends with Saheeli Rai. It removes certain problem permanents (e.g. Always Watching). And it completes the combo!

One of the reasons Donnegan was able to cut a Felidar Guardian is that Nahiri, the Harbinger can go and find the copy necessary to complete the combo, when Ultimate! Get there!

Observations on Black-Green

Winding Constrictor is “weirdly” good, and format-warping. If you have Winding Constrictor in play, there is a greater incentive to go wide with Verdurous Gearhulk, rather than go tall. Every creature you put a +1/+1 counter on gets two +1/+1 counters, remember.

This color combination has an overabundance of riches. You have have to choose between Grim Flayer and Gifted Aetherborn as possible two drops… In addition to Winding Constrictor, Walking Ballista, Servant of the Conduit, etc. etc.

Get ready for PT Dublin!

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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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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.

Gearhulk or Grafwidow?

Verdurous Gearhulk
Should Verdurous Gearhulk unseat Ishkanah, Grafwidow at the Delirium five?

One of the three principal decks of Kaladesh Standard is B/G Delirium. There are at least two versions: Although they have a fair number of cards in common — Traverse the Ulvenwald; Grasp of Darkness; or Liliana, the Last Hope — the two builds have very different strategies and play patterns, and try to accomplish different things.

The incumbent version is more midrange. It is more likely to play both offense and defense at the same time with Sylvan Advocate. It might block with Ishkanah, Grafwidow in order to buy time to find a bullet Emrakul, the Promised End.

The newer version — tracing back to Eric Froehlich at Pro Tour Kaladesh — is more offensive. It plays Servant of the Conduit to get the jump on the opponent and is more likely to buff with Blossoming Defense than trade one-for-one with removal or disruption (though it might).

The case for Ishkanah, Grafwidow

Ishkanah, Grafwidow is a powerful card. We’ve seen it played in Temur decks that could never tap for black mana!

If you want to play a card that will help lock down the battlefield, there are few better options in Standard. Given time, it can cut down the opponent’s life total without having to risk combmat. Because it has reach, Ishkanah can help contain cards like Spell Queller or Archangel Avacyn. Because it has so many bodies, Ishkanah can act as a “go wide” stop sign to buy vital setup and stabilization time against beatdown.

The case for Verdurous Gearhulk

If you want to race or brawl, choose Verdurous Gearhulk. In the right context, Verdurous Gearhulk simply out-classes Ishkanah heads up. It will often be competitive (especially depending on what creature gets +1/+1 counters) but is always better when the opponent doesn’t yet have Delirium. Here, Servant of the Conduit and Catacomb Sifter help cast the Gearhulk ahead of time, and something to attack with.

For sure the best playmate to Verduous Gearhulk is Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet. Talk about big life swings! (Also Kalitas auto-ruins the lives of many opponents, e.g. B/R Zombies.)

Bonus: Using Traverse the Ulvenwald

Traverse the Ulvenwald is one of the most flexible cards in Standard. It is generally great for fixing your land draw on turn one, but cashing in for a real threat later in the game. Traverse the Ulvenwald is so effective for its cost it has even started to see adoption in Modern creature decks!

In the traditional Delirium strategies, you could Traverse on turn one (and the mana bases deliberately accommodate for having an extra few lands by playing only 23)… But once you have Delirium it can get an Ishkanah late, or a [generally singleton] Noxious Gearhulk as a point removal-type answer, or go super big with Emrakul.

In the EFro version, though, Traverse the Ulvenwald is more a way to get Delirium! The aggro version simply doesn’t have many sorceries, so a cheap [one mana] way to get a sorcery into the graveyard puts the deck 25% of the way to its namesake. Traverse the Ulvenwald is therefore generally less powerful and flexible in the aggro version of Delirium, but that might make sense, given that the games are shorter by design.

Listen now for more on B/G Delirium and a host of other Standard topics:

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How NOT to Deal with a Prized Amalgam

Prized Amalgam
Prized Amalgam is centerpiece to some of the best decks in Modern AND Standard both

Prized Amalgam in Modern

We begin with Patrick trying to talk Mike off the Inspiring Vantage cliff for Modern.

Yes, Inspiring Vantage goes straight into Mike’s Burn deck… But Patrick’s argument is that Burn sucks. Part of the reason is that one of the most successful Prized Amalgam decks can “dredge” its way into Gnaw to the Bone, effectively countering many, many burn spells.

And what if a Dredge player sideboards in Collective Brutality?

Can you imagine a second turn of killing poor Mike’s Goblin Guide AND taking his Skullcrack AND getting him for a four-life swing… While discarding Prized Amalgam and Stinkweed Imp (which is what he wants to do anyway)?

Mike will have gotten what he deserved in our estimation, you know, for playing Burn; especially since the Inspiring Vantage version doesn’t even play Atarka’s Command (further reducing the deck’s resistance to Gnaw to the Bone).

Prized Amalgam versus Void Shatter

We move to the Zombie in Standard.

Over two Standard Grand Prix, Top 8s were dominated by U/W Flash and Boros / Mardu Vehicles decks… The lone exception was one Zombie Madness deck… Featuring four copies of Prized Amalgam.

Here’s the thing — Prized Amalgam costs 1UB. One BLUE Black. The deck doesn’t even have blue mana! It can’t cast Prized Amalgam, only kill you with it.

Cathartic Reunion, Insolent Neonate, Cryptbreaker, new superstar Smuggler’s Copter, and even Lightning Axe put Prized Amalgam into the graveyard for you; from there Haunted Dead and Scrapheap Scrounger are waiting to put it directly into play. B/R is a beatdown deck that starts off on turn one, gets in there flying-Watchwolf-Looter-style, puts plenty of pressure on you… But has a tremendous graveyard-driven value engine too. You can’t deal with it like a straightforward beatdown deck or it will bury you; you can’t sleep on Voldaren Pariah.

This deck is inevitable.

This deck is deceptively card advantageous.

What’s the point of playing Void Shatter if you can never actually Counterspell the Zombie in question?

More Modern, more Standard, and (we hope) an answer or two in “How NOT to Deal with a Prized Amalgam”:

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Torrential Gearhulk Masterpieces

Torrential Gearhulk
The “original” Torrential Gearhulk Masterpiece

The story so far…

Wait a second! Isn’t this supposed to be the uber beatdown format?

Hold on! You mean this isn’t the Standard where Dead Weight is better than Ruinous Path?

So like… Is Smuggler’s Copter not the best card, aggressive or no?

It turns out… Gifts Ungiven beat Umezawa’s Jitte (again).

Don’t Call it a Comeback

Smuggler’s Copter was good… But Gideon, Ally of Zendikar was great. One-upping (literally one-upping) Smuggler’s Copter in the Top 8, Gideon battled to the most populous position. In addition to supplementing the Copter beatdown decks (whether Boros or Mardu), Gideon contributed to Azorius and Jeskai midrange and / or control decks.

So… Gideon was great, but Torrential Gearhulk was best.

ctrl+

It turns out you can play any number of Torrential Gearhulk decks.

The finals included a Gearhulk mirror match between former World Champion Carlos Romao with Jeskai Control, and former Player of the Year Shota Yasooka with Grixis Control. Both control masters — Pro Tour Champions with B/U decks each — packed Torrential Gearhulk as the powerhouse finisher.

Carlos used a variety of spot removal and permission spells to fight aggressive opponents one-for-one early. These all made for solid Torrential Gearhulk targets.

Shota’s black splash allowed for two copies of Unlicensed Disintegration. In case you missed, Torrential Gearhulk is an artifact creature. Holy mondo combo Batman Shota! Along with the Gearhulk’s big body, Unlicensed Disintegration helped set up a monster race position.

Both decks packed Radiant Flames and light Energy sub-themes to really punish the predicted attack decks.

… And the finalists weren’t even the only Gearhulk decks in the Top 8!

Find out more about this still-evolving Standard format, and the trends in both the incumbent attack decks and the rising control decks in “Torrential Gearhulk Masterpieces”:

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