Combo off with Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Meet Kethis, the Hidden Hand

Kethis, the Hidden Hand is the center of Standar’s most exciting strategy
  • Effect of Card: Legendary spells you cast cost (1) less to cast. Exile two legendary cards from your graveyard: Until end of turn, each legendary card in your graveyard gains “You may play this card from your graveyard.”
  • Converted Mana Cost: 3
  • Type: Legendary Creature – Elf Advisor
  • Sets: Core Set 2020

Okay… There is a ton to unpack here. Kethis, the Hidden Hand is, first and foremost, a nice creature. For three mana (albeit of three different colors) it provides a 3/4 body. Not insane by itself, but no slouch, and more than big enough to defend the battlefield while you’re setting the game up.

More importantly come the Hidden Hand’s two lines of text:

  1. The first makes Legendary spells — including not only creatures by Planeswalkers and big endgame stuff like Urza’s Ruinous Blast cheaper.
  2. The second is a kind of card drawing engine, provided you have sufficient Legendary cards and a way to stock your graveyard.

Diligent Excavator + Kethis, the Hidden Hand

By itself, Kethis, the Hidden Hand might have been able to drive a serviceable midrange deck. After all, its power and toughness are full-on “okay” for its casting cost, and if you have enough Legendary cards… It can do some good grinding.

But combined with Diligent Excavator and Mox Amber, this Elf Advisor can weave some legen — wait for it — dary game states.

Diligent Excavator sets up Kethis.

Unassuming in the abstract, Diligent Excavator makes for an extremely cost-efficient source of self-Mill. If you have this card in play, you can Mill yourself for zero — zero mana — using a [Legendary] Mox Amber. Go ahead and tap that Mox for a mana.

When you play another one, you will not only Mill yourself again, but the Legend Rule will put your original Mox Amber into the graveyard; you know, where you can cast it again using the Hidden Hand’s shenanigans.

Between these cards and a discount on Oath of Kaya, the Standard Kethis Combo deck can play for a Storm-like recurring Fireball plan, grind the opponent out with card advantage, or mold a plan to the other mage’s specific configuration.

Sure, there are ways to nerf the graveyard, but this deck plays Teferi, Time Raveler to bounce a Leyline of the Void, and conventional disruption like Duress is a little blunted (most of the combo pieces being creatures); as is creature removal (stuff like Cast Down is rather poor against all the Legends).

In sum: Awesome!

Stay Tuned for…

The best of the rest. We talk everything from Grixis Control to innovations in Golos for Field of the Dead. Standard is so dynamic nowadays! Enjoy!

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All the Ways to Play (and beat) Field of the Dead

Field of the Dead from Core Set 2020 defines the best decks in Standard

Scapeshift into Field of the Dead

Scapeshift is a longtime combo enabler. In Modern, it is liable to stack so many triggers from Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle some players have broken the sixty card rule just to cram more Mountains into their decks.

Some enterprising beatdown mages have cast Scapeshift with Steppe Lynx in play to get a ton of short-term buffs. Short, maybe; but you don’t need that many +2/+2 triggers if you’re just going to kill the other guy RIGHT NOW THIS TURN.

Now in Standard with Core Set 2020, Scapeshift combines with Field of the Dead to make a ton of 2/2 Zombie tokens. With any seven lands you can reliably Scapeshift into a two-turn clock. With eight you can get two copies of Field of the Dead and produce over thirty power!

Field of the Dead: Plan B

If for some reason your opponent neutralizes your Scapeshifts (maybe with an Unmoored Ego) you aren’t dead-dead.

I mean, they probably should have named “Field of the Dead” … But that doesn’t work so well if you already played a Field of the Dead. In this case, at some point (provided you have the minimum number of different lands in play) you can make a 2/2 Zombie every turn.

That might not be the best-sounding plan, but the Scapeshift deck is not apt to run out of lands any time soon. It’s real card advantage, and might be inevitable. Otherwise? Leverage your lands into Hydroid Krasis and cross your fingers.

Some Great Ways to Beat Field of the Dead

If no one is allowed to update their decks, Scapeshift with Field of the Dead is the best deck in the format by a wide margin; Bant Scapeshift in particular. There are other viable Scapeshift decks, but Bant’s ability to combo off at the end of the opponent’s turn (or just guarantee that Scapeshift resolves) with Teferi, Time Raveler puts it ahead of other aspiring lists.

But… We are allowed to update our lists! Here are some ideas for how to best Scapeshift (and where to play them):

  • Deputy of Detention – If you’re looking to play White Weenie, we recommend splashing blue for Deputy of Detention instead of red (or no second color). This card deals with as many 2/2 Zombies… As the opponent has on the battlefield.
  • Unmoored Ego – If you can resolve this card before the opponent successfully casts Scapeshift you can prevent the combo kill. If you can cast it and name Field of the Dead itself (instead of Scapeshift), the opponent will be in a truly desperate situation.
  • Ashiok, Dream Render – Our favorite answer! Ashiok prevents the opponent from successfully using Circuitous Route and its cousins to get ahead on resources (let alone a game-winning Scapeshift).
  • Simic Nexus – The Wilderness Reclamation strategy is just faster than Scapeshift. If you’re behind the 2/2 Zombie tokens, you can always Root Snare to buy more time.

Tons more in the podcast proper! Give “All the Ways to Play (and beat) Field of the Dead” now!

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Chandra’s Spitfire and Key Changes to Mono-Red

It’s All About Chandra’s Spitfire

Chandra’s Spitfire gives Mono-Red a whole new endgame.

Aaron Barich took down the first big Standard event of Core Set 2020 Standard with… Mono-Red Aggro!

But Aaron’s Mono-Red was a whole new flavor. While related to previous incarnations of the deck, the Barich build featured four copies of Chandra’s Spitfire. What a weird three drop, you might muse to yourself: But this isn’t just a creature that you might play… It’s a dramatically different direction for Mono-Red that preserves most of what made the deck good before, but adds a Pyromancer’s Ascension-like end game.

Aaron’s build chooses Ember Hauler over Viashino Pyromancer, and consequently, Skewer the Critics over Wizard’s Lightning. While Viashino Pyromancer kind of always burns for two (and Ember Hauler only sometimes burns for two), the ability to choose when you do this for buffing Chandra’s Spitfire or setting up Skewer the Critics is a big deal in this more strategic build.

Of note: Both Runaway Steam-Kin and Chandra’s Spitfire are Elementals. As such, they don’t die to the sweeping [-3] of Chandra, Awakened Inferno.

Ember Hauler versus Viashino Pyromancer

Ember Hauler costs RR instead of R1… Which isn’t an issue in a deck with literally 20 basic Mountains.

The ability to deal two damage to a creature is of course an upgrade over Viashino Pyromancer’s 187 ability.

The downside, of course, is that Viashino Pyromancer always hits, and “hits” even if it would die in combat or to removal. That’s not necessarily true for Ember Hauler. Under Sixth Edition rules, Ember Hauler would have had the benefit of “damage on the stack” … But those rules haven’t been in play for years. If Ember Hauler is going to trade with something in combat, it will not also be able to deal its extra two.

There are pros and cons to both two drops. Ember Hauler is a little better with Skewer the Critics and Chandra’s Spitfire. Viashino Pyromancer is a little better at loading up damage against Planeswalkers.

The tiebreaker?

2/2 versus 2/1!

The second toughness on Ember Hauler, combined with the presence of the three-toughness Spitfire, makes Aaron’s Red Deck a bit more resilient against other people’s Goblin Chainwhirlers.

And that’s not a small thing if Mono-Red is once again Standard’s early leader…

But Don’t Sleep on Cerulean Drake…

Cerulean Drake is absolutely incredible against Mono-Red.

It’s like a Sea Sprite — and Sea Sprite was a legendary sideboard card against Deadguy Red “back in the day” — but has an additional ability!

Cerulean Drake’s most important function in the modern age is being able to wear a Curious Obsession. Decks that only have red removal (like Mono-Red, but probably not only Mono-Red) will probably just lose to that two-card combo.

But Cerulean Drake can be played in more than just Mono-Blue Tempo! This card seems like an outstanding sideboard card for Esper Control. Not only will it buy you a ton of time and life against the hated Mono-Red deck… It’s outstanding for Planeswalker defense!

Putting it All Together…

Patrick thinks the Mono-Red deck may want to be splashing green in the longer term.

Cindervines is one of the best sideboard cards in the format; and a great tool if Wilderness Reclamation decks return to popularity.

But maybe more importantly? Kraul Harpooner to knock Cerulean Drake out of the sky!

For more sick tech like this, listen up to this week’s podcast now!

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We are ALL ABOUT this New Nightpack Ambusher Deck

Meet Nightpack Ambusher from M20:


2GG
Creature – Wolf
Flash
Other Wolves and Werewolves you control get +1/+1.
At the beginning of your end step, if you didn’t cast a spell this turn, create a 2/2 green Wolf creature token.
4/4

It’s all about the Risen Ree… Err… Breeding Pool

The new Standard is chock full of awesome new Breeding Pool decks. Big mana ramp is giving our old buddy Hydrod Krasis new life.

Risen Reef is appearing in a variety of Temur Elementals decks, slapping palms with two different types of M20 Chandra, going wide, and going tall.

There is an unbelievable new Simic Deck with an infinite combo driven by Drawn from Dreams. Imagine having four permanents in play and then free-playing Omniscience (and everything else you might want to do right after). Mike thought this was going to be his favorite deck — or at least Simic deck — of the week.

That is, until Patrick introduced him to Nightpack Ambusher.

Nightpack Ambusher in Simic Flash

We’ve seen Azorius Flash decks for years… But URZA2109 gave us a sweet new Simic deck… That plays almost entirely on the opponent’s turn!

Check out this lineup:

  • Brineborn Cutthroat – Flash… And a ton of upside based on your other 16 flash guys (and permission)
  • Frilled Mystic – Flash… That utterly destroys last season’s crop of “big spell” decks
  • Merfolk Trickster – Flash (and flashy)
  • Spectral Sailor – Flash; flashy on one… and really flashy on five (Whispers of the Muse, anyone?)

The unbelievable beauty of Nightpack Ambusher in this deck is that you almost never cast anything on your own turn. The only card in the entire main deck that plays main phase is Mu Yanling, Sky Dancer. That means that — unless something is going waaaaay wrong — you are making a 3/3 Wolf every turn.

With 10 permission spells (and 3 Unsummons for those Frilled Mystics) this is a tough setup to beat once you get the big Wolf down.

Shifting Ceratops Ain’t no Slouch, Neither

URZA2109 put together a heck of a sideboard. All these cards are great; but the Core Set 2020 additions are super great!

There are already four Shifting Ceratops to kill Teferi, Hero of Dominaria to death (with haste); we just think a fourth Aether Gust might make sense… To counter other players’ Shifting Ceratops πŸ˜‰

There were a ton of new Core Set 2020 decks revealed this week, from B/W Vampires to Jund Dinosaurs. Check them all out now!

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Is Command the Dreadhorde the Biggest Big Spell in Standard?

Welcome to a new era of big spells in Standard!

Sure, Mono-Red is going to try to play Fun Police, but much of the rest of the format? They’re casting big, big, Magic: The Gathering spells. No no – Bigger than that.

Command the Dreadhorde

Command the Dreadhorde – Is it the Biggest?

Certainly not in every deck.

Ben Friedman played a copy in his main deck (and other copy in his sideboard). Otherwise? Just a modified “Esper Superheroes” deck. Yes, there were powerful Planeswalkers to get back (as well as a full quartet of Basilica Bell-Haunts… But this is not really where Command the Dreadhorde shines brightest.

Dedicated Command the Dreadhorde

Command the Dreadhorde is more central to the winning deck of last week’s Classic, played by Robert Hayes.

With a ton of Explore creatures like Jadelight Ranger and Merfolk Branchwalker, the Hayes deck willfylly dumps extra cards into the graveyard, making for potentially juiced commands. On top of this, four copies of Tamiyo, Collector of Tales both fills the graveyard and searches for our key spell.

Tamiyo, Collector of Tales

The card that laces everything together is Wildgrowth Walker!

Wildgrowth Walker can help you gain life along the way, which will either give you fuel to Command the Dreadhorde or a ton of triggers paying you back once you already have.

I’d say keep your Walker safe, but if you don’t you can always get him back later, life-granting Explore triggers and all!

Hayes is so big into having the biggest end game he even played Trostani Discordant.

Oh I get it… Is Mass Manipulation even Bigger of a Big Spell?

Mass Manipulation

Sometimes!

Your size will vary on Mass Manipulation depending on how big and strong and overall powerful the kinds of cards are that it will steal.

But what we do know: Trostani Discordant could be better.

Trostani defends creatures only… So if the opponent lines up to get Planeswalkers? The Selesnya Legend has no opinion πŸ™

Check it all out:

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Is Narset, Parter of Veils the Best Card in Standard?


ο»ΏIs Narset, Parter of Veils the best card in Standard?

… Probably not.

But we might be able to have a fun discussion around the topic!

Mike advocates for Teferi, Time Raveler as the best card in Standard, and Patrick largely counter-points with Narset… But he has a few points.

Narset, Parter of Veils in the Red Deck Metagame

Narset looks fantastic against many blue decks. In and against [other] blue decks, that is. You’ll see some cutting Chemister’s Insight to make room for Narset. Narset both fills in Chemister’s Insight’s old job and makes life difficult for other folks trying to draw two cards at the end of your turn!

But where this card might really shine is Mono-Red!

The consensus among War of the Spark red mages is to play Risk Factor. The first big event featured three Red Decks in the Top 4. Wow. Yowza! All of them played three Risk Factors, whether in the main deck or sideboard.

Surely those Risk Factors will be in against a blue control opponent, as soon as they can make their way into the deck.

But look at Narset’s static ability:

Each opponent can’t draw more than one card each turn.

That means that when the opponent casts Risk Factor, you can decline to take four damage… But they will not get all that much value. Certainly they will not be peeling three cards.

Another Red Deck casualty of Narset is B/R midrange. Generally featuring Rix Maadi Reveler (which is a superior two-card combo with Risk Factor generally), this deck is even more vulnerable to Narset. Why?

You can’t even filter one card with Rix Maadi Rewveler if it’s on your own turn!

Narset, Parter of Veils as a Card Advantage Engine

We know this card has some built-in card advantage just by virtue of messing up other people’s card drawing plans. But no one would play it if not for the powerful [-2] ability.

βˆ’2: Look at the top four cards of your library. You may reveal a noncreature, nonland card from among them and put it into your hand. Put the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

As a three mana Planeswalker, there are many implementations that make sense proactively. In the Simic Nexus deck alone, there are at least two amazing four mana spells — Tamiyo, Collector of Tales and Wilderness Reclamation — that can complete a vicious three-four punch.

This ability is generally stronger than drawing a card in the abstract. Even when you spend it twice, leaving Narset depleted, you will generally still have a powerful, disruptive, asset.

The Best of the Rest

Everything from the ins and outs of the new-look Red Decks with Chandra, Fire Artisan to how to build a Niv-Mizzet, Reborn control deck!

Check it out here:

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The Rise of Gruul Aggro

It’s not just that Gruul Aggro won Grand Prix Kyoto last week… There have been several different types of Gruul decks popping up (and performing) in Standard.

Tell me about Gruul Guildgate in Gruul Aggro?

Gruul Guildgate

Gruul Guildgate is not usually the kind of thing you want to see in an aggressive deck. It comes into play tapped, so can be curve-contrary… Best on turn one, Gruul Guildgate is a non-bo with the aggressive one drops we often see in Red Decks.

That said, Gruul Guildgate is an important source of green for the red-heavy version. It’s not so much that you need green for creatures; Unclaimed Territory set to “Warrior” can cast all of Goblin Chainwhirler (red), Growth-Chamber Guardian, or Kraul Harpooner.

Part of what makes Gruul is the availability of wild cards like Cindervines for the sideboard; and you need good old fashioned green mana for that. Sorry, Wilderness Reclamation.

Rhythm of the Wild in Gruul Aggro

Rhythm of the Wild

Another way to run Gruul is a Riot-themed version with Rhythm of the Wild or Domri, Chaos Bringer. Yoshihiko Tokuyama finished third in Kyoto with a Dinosaur deck that started many of its monsters sideways.

Domri, Chaos Bringer is great as a one-of. It not only adds a dimension to a creature deck, it gives the Gruul Dinosaurs resilience against sweepers. Plus, the fact that both your bodies on Regisaur Alpha can come down swinging is a meaningful dimension. Multiple sources of Riot (say both Domri and Rhythm of the Wild) are not really diminishing returns. Why not choose the +1/+1 and haste?

Not for nothing: But Kraul Harpooner is already one of the strongest two drops in Standard. The fact that some kind of a haste engine can level this card up so much — especially against control — broadens the impact of that already-awesome card.

Cheating with Status // Statue

Most Gruul builds can’t cast Statue at all.

But Status?

Try adding that card to a Goblin Chainwhirler or Skarrgan Hellkite. You can give your creature deathtouch to splatter two (or all) of the opponent’s creatures in one sweet sweep.

See what happens when you give me deathtouch.

You won’t believe what Mike’s favorite deck of the week was.

We’ll give you a hint: It was a Rhythm of the Wild deck. And not a Gruul Aggro. Really!

Find out more:

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Top Decks from Mythic Championship Cleveland

Cleveland Rocked: Mono-Blue Took Down Mythic Championship

It’s hard to argue that Mono-Blue Tempo wasn’t the top deck of the inaugural Mythic Championship. Autumn Burchett defeated all other mages with their nineteen land-one-Heral version… But there remains a lot of wiggle room in the archetype, even with the dust settled. Consider:

  • How many lands is right? 19 Islands? 20? … And should any of them match with any others?
  • How many copies of Entrancing Melody? Main deck or sideboard?
  • Ditto on Exclusion Mage. Or Jace, Cunning Castaway?

One thing’s for sure: Mike thinks Experimental Frenzy and friends is the right way to go in Standard moving forward… But his beloved Goblin Chainwhirler and friends did not back up its reputation against Mono-Blue in this Top 8 specifically. Patrick disagrees greatly, despite our duo’s mutual appreciation of the all-new Cindervines.

Arclight Phoenix Returned to the Top Tables at Mythic Championship Cleveland

“Greek Mythological Figure” Luis Scott-Vargas also returned to Top 8 play (since, you know, his last appearance at the last Pro Tour) as the Arclight Phoenix pilot.

Why might you play Arclight Phoenix instead of Drakes?

Why might you play the card basic Mountain at all?

Are there any Ravnica Allegiance cards to play in this deck?

These questions and more are answered!

The Best of the Rest

Mythic Championship Cleveland gave us some spicy options outside of the Top 8… And some all-new decks that you may not have seen before.

  • Into Control? Sure there was Esper in the Top 8, but that’s not the only Thought Erasure deck in the format. Check out Seth Manfield’s Dimir Surveil build… With zero main-deck copies of Sinister Sabotage!
  • Straight Beatdown more your game? There were multiple takes on Mardu with Judith, the Scourge Diva. Whether you’re into Mavren Fen and the Vampire squad or hastily dominating the Red Zone with Heroic Reinforcements, Standard has some corners still worth exploring.
  • Or our favorite… Hall of Famer Raph Levy was into Merfolk Trickster… Just not as into Merfolk Trickster as all those Planeswalkers in the Top 8. Raph only played two in his Simic Merfolk deck. Bask in the aura (and recoil from the fishy odor) of thirty marauding Merfolk! Theme is broken here only for four copies of Kraul Harpooner in the sideboard. Truly a spicy brew that both our hosts would gladly sleeve up.

All this and more:

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Kraul Harpooner – Evolutions and Synergies


Kraul Harpooner is one of the most underrated cards in Standard

Kraul Harpooner – Current Implementations

The Insect Warrior from Guilds of Ravnica has done most of its damage recently coming out of the sideboard. This past weekend at Grand Prix Memphis, it was featured in the sideboards of both Top 8 Sultai decks, as well as the aggressive Gruul deck.

Standard deck designers have been including it… Just not as the centerpiece.

Kraul Harpooner in Main-Deck Sultai

Patrick had the pretty novel idea of playing Kraul Harpooner in his main deck at the Mythic Championships. There are many benefits, including just mugging the dominant Mono-Blue deck on turn two.

Can you imagine an opponent passing with a Siren Stormtamer in play on turn one? Maybe a Healer’s Hawk? Because the 3/2 Harpooner can take one of those creatures out while both generating card advantage and establishing a threat on the board, the positional advantage generated on turn two can be absolutely devastating. Talk about getting a free win!

But the advantage of adding this guy to the main it isn’t just the ability to catch Mono-Blue or White Weenie unaware. Relative to the stock Sultai list, Harpooners are taking up creature removal slots (while remaining creature removal-ish). So you also get a turn two threat that you can use to attack against Esper or Wilderness Reclamation! The fact that Kraul Harpooner is a guy you can cast early instead of a Cast Down that you will never cast might make all the difference in a race.

This attitude towards initiative versus instant speed removal goes beyond just the 3/2 body. Patrick chose also to sideboard Thrashing Brontodon at Cleveland instead of Crushing Canopy. The Brontodon is a potential attacker (or blocker for Mono-Red)… At the point that you can or should cast Crushing Canopy, the dino might have put you 6-9 points ahead already… While still being capable of Reclamation removal

Kraul Harpooner and Friends

We spend this podcast talking about all the relevant decks of Standard, including the resurgent “one true color” according to Mike. In the green-splashing Red Deck, there is a novel synergy between Goblin Chainwhirler and the Harpooner. Both are Warriors.

Therefore you can open up on Mountain; play Unclaimed Territory on turn two (naming Warrior) to hit the Harpooner; then play a second Mountain for Goblin Chainwhirler on three without missing a beat!

The Gruul midrange deck is chock full of other Goblins, so this might be a slightly unusual use of Unclaimed Territory, but it’s important to note… Especially as Growth-Chamber Guardian is not just a Crab, not just an Elf… But a Warrior as well!

Check out all the new deck talk here:

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Play More Thief of Sanity

Thief of Sanity
Play more Thief of Sanity? Try playing four Thief of Sanity already!

Thief of Sanity in Jeskai?

Since Thief of Sanity is a Dimir (ergo black-blue) and Jeskai is a white-blue-red color combination… So you can’t actually play the Thief in Jeskai.

Mike briefly argues that it’s not necessarily the case that Esper is the superior control deck to Jeskai in Standard (regardless of what the Top 8s say). Patrick argues that the ability to play Thief of Sanity after sideboarding pushes black over the red three-color control version.

This three drop Specter is of course an awesome tool in Esper decks after sideboarding, offering a combination of persistent card advantage and ongoing disruption against any of the Wilderness Reclamation type powerhouse decks.

How About Thief of Sanity in Sultai?

This card can be played in the main deck or the sideboard. While we are not sure which is best… We do know that we would lean on playing more copies.

Argument For Main Deck: Llanowar Elves on turn one can potentially allow you to play your Specter on turn two!

Argument Against Main Deck: It’s awful against decks like Mono-Red and you might just lose if you draw two copies.

That said, this creature is much like the full promise of the Mono-Blue Aggro deck — currently the most successful deck in Standard — all bundled into one card. This is essentially one of Mono-Blue’s 1/1 evasion creatures that starts with Curious Obsession already in play.

It can keep you when you’re already winning. It can steal from decks that require particular spells to function. And especially coming out of the sideboard, it can help control decks put their victims on a clock.

Find out more places we think players should play more copies (and all the other current Standard trends) here:

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