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

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.