How Cavalier of Thorns Makes Sultai Escape

Cavalier of Thorns… Is There Anything it Can’t Do?

If qualifying Mike for the Players Tour wasn’t enough…

As with last week’s qualifying events, Cavalier of Thorns really stepped up to help Mark Jacobson win the first MagicFest Online Weekly Championship!

In Sultai Escape, Cavalier of Thorns both highlights the deck’s strengths… And helps to shore up its weaknesses.

Cavalier of Thorns as Engine

The Elemental Knight will put four (and in rare cases five) cards into your graveyard, directly from your library when it enters the battlefield. One of those four cards might be…

Polukranos, Unchained

… or better yet…

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Putting one of those cards directly into the graveyard is like drawing an extra card. The Escape mechanic allows you to play either Polukranos or Uro out of the graveyard; and in Uro’s case it’s even better than drawing the card normally.

This is on top of (probably) getting an extra land; and on top of the expected re-buy later on in the game.

If you “whiff” on either Escape creature; rest assured that the four cards you’re putting directly into the graveyard can help you to pay for Escape some time in the future. So Cavalier of Thorns is always doing something nice for your development.

Cavalier of Thorns in Context

Mike in particular has always been a Bant > Sultai guy.

Both decks have similar advantages… Growth Spiral to get out of the gate; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath as the persistent powerhouse; Hydroid Krasis to take huge advantage of all that extra mana.

Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils are two of the strongest Planeswalkers in Standard; both are game-altering and easy on the mana… At least one is a four-of in Bant while neither sees much (if any) play in Sultai. But that’s not the main reason for the aforementioned Bant bias. It’s really just about this creature:

Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is difficult to counter for Sultai, and thanks to its floating Hexproof ability… Notoriously difficult to remove. It isn’t just that Bant had Dream Trawler and Sultai didn’t… It’s so tough for Sultai to deal with one.

Well… That was before the days of Cavalier of Thorns.

Today, the six toughness Elemental Knight WITH REACH can guard a Sultai mage’s life total against Dream Trawler; and in the case that the Dream Trawler accumulates sufficient power to trade… Cavalier of Thorns can redeploy one of Sultai Escape’s other mighty threats.

The world has changed.

Or, at least, this matchup.

Sultai ended up on top… So now what?

More from…

  • Rakdos Sacrifice… and Rakdos Sacrifice
  • Four-color Nicol Bolas
  • Azorius Blink
  • Temur Adventures

… And more!

Check out this week’s Standard recap now:

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Hottest Standard Tech from #mtgtogether

#mtgtogether gives us a window to this weekend’s Arena “Grand Prix”

In light of what’s going on in “the real world” (and the wide scale cancellations of large paper Magic tournaments) CFB Events are trying — for the first time — to run a Grand Prix on Magic: The Gathering Arena.

The simple rules…

  • CFB Events runs multiple flights per day
  • Anyone going 5-1 or better (generally 5-1 or 6-0) qualifies for the Grand Prix this weekend

What was amazing and inspiring to us?

There is all kinds of legitimate great new tech popping up as a result of #mtgtogether!

To date there hasn’t been one reliable repository for the performing lists; so we thought we’d curate some of the Tweets from qualifying players and discuss their deck lists in this week’s episode.

Ral’s Outburst in Temur Reclamation…

… is not even the craziest thing about this qualifying list!

What’s even crazier?

This is a Wilderness Reclamation deck… Crossed with Draw-Go? In addition to two copies of Thassa’s Intervention, the miser’s Aether Gust, and a couple of Negates… Temur Reclamation now packs four — count ’em four — Mystical Disputes in the main!

Pair that with a legitimate transformational sideboard bringing in the Full Four copies of Nightpack Ambusher and you have a meaningfully different look at the archetype.

Who needs Storm’s Wrath or Nissa, Who Shakes the World? Am I right?

Bonecrusher Giant in <strike>Simic</strike> Temur Flash

Here’s another Temur innovation:

Two-thirds Simic Flash… One-third Temur Reclamation?

This deck has a lot of what made Simic Flash the first time around — including Spectral Sailor — but added sweet red cards like Bonecrusher Giant and Expansion // Explosion. And Wilderness Reclamation!

We see the Nightpack Ambushers main deck here… But very low permission (relative to past Simic Flash decks). But who doesn’t love Wilderness Reclamation powering up those Sailors?

And Matt Sperling’s near-perfect Bant List

Mike’s friend Roman Fusco took down an #mtgtogether event 6-0 packing what might be the mathematically perfect Bant list:

Notably:

  • Two copies of Arboreal Grazer
  • Zero copies of Knight of Autumn
  • Four (!) copies of Elspeth Conquers Death (4!) [as it is the best]

Mike would have liked a second Dream Trawler; but Patrick thinks that’s a mere security blanket. The pair agree that Bant is the best deck in Standard, and the list that Sperling came up with (and Roman qualified with) is very — very — close to what they would both play right now.

And Finally… Cavalier of Thorns in Sultai!

Mike has been really low on Sultai, at least relative to the availability of Bant in Standard. His main reason? Not only does it not play Dream Trawler, it couldn’t historically stop it, really.

But Yuta Takahashi’s Cavalier of Thorns has enormous toughness that is difficult (though admittedly not impossible) for Dream Trawler to get through; and with Reach, it can kill Dream Trawler in combat.

And of course, Cavalier of Thorns can help power up the Escape routes on Uro and Polukranos!

Patrick’s favorite feature? Cutting Agonizing Remorse for the last two copies of Growth Spiral. Mike heartily agrees. This is a substantial improvement on the Sultai archetype.

But wait! There’s more!

  • Rakdos sacrifice with no copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
  • Rakdos sacrifice that really — really — hates the graveyard
  • Whether Erebos’s Intervention is even playable
  • Even more Temur

Let’s get #mtgtogether now!

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Let’s Talk About Phoenix of Ash in Mono-Red

Phoenix of Ash was not a popular inclusion in the Worlds Red Decks…

But… Phoenix of Ash Roars Back to Win Grand Prix Lyon

So what happened here?

Phoenix of Ash was a medium-popular card in the pre-Worlds Red Decks. Yet it did not crack the starting sixty of a single deck in Hawaii (by our count there was a single copy in a single sideboard).

And to be fair, for a tournament where Azorius Control ended up on top, Phoenix of Ash is only pretty good.

Aether Gust, Devout Decree, Glass Casket… and even Cerulean Drake saw play at the two at Worlds; all those cards are faster than Phoenix of Ash and all of them foil its natural card advantage in some way.

But Phoenix of Ash is hitting not only sideboards but main decks nowadays… How did it get better?

Phoenix of Ash… Flies?

Believe it or not, “flying” is one of the main things that Phoenix of Ash has going for it. At the time of Grand Prix Lyon, one of the most popular decks in Standard was Temur Adventures… And for a deck with 8+ flying creatures itself, Temur Adventures is embarrassingly bad at defending itself in the air.

But flying is the only thing going for the 2/2.

  • It’s “firebreathing”-type ability allows Phoenix of Ash to not only mow down certain blockers, it scales very well with Embercleave.
  • The card is a great way to set up Spectacle for Light Up the Stage
  • It reinforces both the Red Deck’s haste sub-theme and its two-for-one sub-theme.

We might even play more!

But wait! There’s more!

  • Why Mike likes Bant the best in Standard
  • How Patrick convinced Mike to play Knight of Autumn (you know, like everyone else already does)
  • What’s wrong with the structure of Sultai Ramp (spoilers! we’d run more copies of Growth Spiral)
  • … And more!

Give it a listen now:

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The Most Exciting Decks from Worlds 2020

Innovations in Standard? Look no further than Archon of Sun’s Grace

PV won Worlds 2020 with Azorius Control

Was PV’s one of the most exciting lists of Worlds 2020?

Patrick in particular calls it well tuned.

Moving away from four copies of Dream Trawler to incorporate faster threats (or stabilization tools) like Archon of Sun’s Grace, PV’s winning list exploited a power enchantments sub-theme with cards like Banishing Light and Thirst for Meaning in addition to the ubiquitous Omen of the Sea and The Birth of Meletis.

Mike loved U/W coming into the tournament… But liked a different list.

Thoralf Severin added key innovations… Especially to the sideboard of Azorius Control

Spectral Sailor out of the sideboard!

In the market for “some kind of Commence the Endgame”?

Thinking you might try to grind with Chemister’s Insight after sideboarding?

Thoralf Severin did you one better with his addition of Spectral Sailor.

Dodging Dovin’s Veto and largely sneaking under other types of permission spells, Spectral Sailor can act like a portable Chemister’s Insight… But one that skirts the rules of Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler much better than some other card drawing options.

Speaking of powerful card draw, Severin also packed Emergency Powers!

One of the flashiest cards to see play a Worlds, Emergency Powers — at least when you have a Narset and they don’t — can have a spectacular impact on the the game.

A “Shock”-ing Number of Burn Spells at Worlds 2020

If I told you there would be four dedicated Mono-Red players in a field of sixteen; and you didn’t know much else about them…

How many Shocks do you imagine they would be packing between their decks?

Sixteen?

That would have been my guess!

The real answer?

Three… Between the four of them! One mage didn’t even pack main deck Bonecrusher Giant!

The aspiring fire gods of Worlds 2020 had a really specific thought process on Shock… Don’t be bad against Azorius Control and Jeskai Fires.

At the very least… They largely beat up Temur.

Was Jeskai Fires the Deck of Worlds 2020?

Play Robber of the Rich in your sideboard

The most pronounced sideboard card that Gabriel Nassif and Raphael Levy ran in their Jeskai Fires deck was of course Robber of the Rich. Quite simply, it can potentially single-handedly dominate Azorius Control.

But Robber was far from the only unique feature of their build! Check out this week’s podcast to find out all the reasons we think it might just have been the deck of Worlds 2020:

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The Return of Mono-Black Devotion

Gray Merchant of Asphodel creates a huge incentive to play Mono-Black Devotion

Starting with Mono-Black Devotion

There are a ton of great new decks (and new looks at old decks) thanks to Theros Beyond Death entering Standard…

But both Patrick and Michael think Mono-Black Devotion will be one of the most important breakout strategies.

Haven’t we seen this deck before? In the pretty recent past? Why Mono-Black Devotion now? Simple: Lots of the new additions actually reference the mechanic! Examples include:

  • The aforementioned Gray Merchant of Asphodel,
  • Drag to the Underworld, and
  • Tymaret, Chosen from Death

But despite missing some key words on its cardboard, Michael thinks that a different card is the one that makes this deck…

Nightmare Shepherd in Mono-Black Devotion

Nightmare Shepherd

This new Demon is one of the cards that really makes this deck hum. If you play a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with it on the battlefield, you can enjoy the intense combination of black mana symbols… But that’s not all. Sacrificing the five mana Zombie to a card like Woe Strider can set up another trigger.

Thanks to Nightmare Shepherd, it will be child’s play to take an opponent from half their life total to zilch in a single turn.

You can also exploit timing tricks, like sacrificing a Yarok’s Fenlurker or Burglar Rat during the opponent’s draw to keep them locked at no cards in hand (a pretty rare opportunity for instant speed discard).

Tons and tons of focus on Mono-Black Devotion this week… But that’s not all!

The Best of the Rest…

  • Where do Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven fit into this metagame?
  • How about Rakdos instead of Mono-Black? Do you get more from the second color… Or more from the literal Devotion to Black?
  • All the different ways folks have tried The Akroan War so far. What’s more exciting? Pairing it with Witch’s Oven… Or stealing creatures permanently with Thassa, Deep Dwelling?
  • “Time Wipe my Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths” … Also at instant speed
  • Which deck does Mike call “the king of mid-range”?
  • What seeming non-bo does Patrick point out is actually a combo?
  • WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Listen now!

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“Quasiduplicate my Risen Reef” and other key plays from Mythic Championship VII

Mythic Championship VII is in the books!

And, despite some missing aggro decks, the tournament did not disappoint in terms of cool decks and the best players winning.

Here are some of the best ones:

Simic Flash was the Deck of the Tournament

Three superstar players of the Pro Tour… Onetime Player of the Year Brad Nelson, former World Champion Seth Manfield, and the hottest player in the world Javier Dominguez all made Top 8 with their Simic Ramp Flash deck.

This build of Simic Flash incorporates some elements of Ramp decks. So while it has some of the Brazen Borrower / Nightpack Ambusher action we’re used to from Simic Flash decks… It is also a Paradise Druid-driven main phase deck.

The big payoffs to this wonderful new take are Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis like so many of the successful decks of the previous format. 

One of the best features of Simic Flash? An utterly dominating matchup against the popular Jeskai Fires of Invention strategy.

Simic Ramp, or… What was That About Quasiduplicate Again?

Quasiduplicate

Andrea Megucci played a novel new Simic Ramp deck that kind of went the other direction from the successful Simic Flash players.

Mengucci had the Nissa / Krasis action (of course)… But pushed the engine to an unbelievable degree.

He went with Leafkin Druid over Paradise Druid… Because it’s an Elemental. Do you know what else is an Elemental? Risen Reef. And Cavalier of Thorns, fo course.

When you Quasiduplicate a Risen Reef, you get a second copy of Risen Reef. Both –that is, both cards — trigger! You get the trigger from the old Risen Reef because the incoming token is an Elemental; and you get the trigger from the new one because it’s a Risen Reef.

Then when you Jump-Start Quasiduplicate, you now get three triggers!

Cool, huh?

Yes, Mengucci made the biggest Hydroids.

How about the Champ? Jund Sacrifice…

Patrick is a huge fan of Piotr Głogowski’s build of Jund Sacrifice. Not only did this strategy eliminate all three superstars with their Simic Flash decks in the Top 8, Glogowski took a subtle and effective route to replacing Once Upon a Time.

Beanstalk Giant

Beanstalk Giant does everything in this deck! It gets you to Casualties of War a turn more quickly in the mirror (spoiler! The Champ played all four copies of Casualties of War)… It finds your solo Mountain for the red splash, and it can win the game with its seven drop mode a few turns later.

Plus some hot tech that didn’t make the Mythic Championship at all, like…

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
The Solution to Simic?
Vivien’s Arkbow

Not sure what deck would want to sleeve up an Arkbow? You can find out right here:

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Casualties of War is Where You Want to Be

Casualties of War can destroy an enchantment… Or pretty much anything else

Jeskai Fires Does Away with the “Fancy”

Now that Oko, Thief of Crowns has been banned in Standard, Jeskai decks with Fires of Invention have positioned themselves among the top strategies. These decks have been present since Throne of Eldraine debuted… But were overshadowed by Simic and Sultai Oko decks.

The new-ish technology for Jeskai Fires?

Sphinx of Foresight.

This strategy is simply no longer interested in “fancy” Silver Bullet Magic around Fae of Wishes. It’s all about using Sphinx of Foresight for greater consistency + maximizing the likelihood of getting Fires of Invention on the battlefield as quickly as possible (ideally turn four).

This deck is like two different decks: It’s optimized to drop Melokus and Keigas assuming Fires of Invention is on the battlefield… But it’s a clunky control deck without Fires.

Conventiently for Fires players, “enchantment” is a tricky permanent to remove once on the battlefield. Which brings us to…

Casualties of War Might be the Best Top End in Cat Food Decks

Cat Food seems to have survived as a possible archetype choice. Oko was a great source of Food… But it turns out that Witch’s Oven has a lot of things it can do still.

Cauldron Familiar and Gilded Goose still open up the Cat Food decks, but they are divided as to what they should be doing deeper in a game… Everything from Garruk, Cursed Huntsman to Liliana, Dreadhorde General.

… But can we recommend 4x Casualties of War?

First off, Casualties of War is simply the most devastating card for the mirror. Artifact. Creature. Enchantment. Land. Planeswalker.

Most Cat Food decks play all those kinds of permanents. Witch’s Oven is a great artifact to blow up… But if you have to settle for a Food token, that might not be that bad… At least as long as you can nab some of the other stuff.

There are no shortage of creatures. Massacre Girl cost the opponent five mana, and some maniacs are even summoning Feasting Troll King! Trail of Crumbs is an ideal enchantment to destroy; but like we intimated before, Fires of Invention (not in the mirror, presumably) has a singular position in this format, and Casualties of War can help you destroy that with value.

Everyone’s got lands. Lots of folks have Planeswalkers. Punish them, any and all!

Also in this Podcast: Why You Should Play 4x Gadwick, the Wizened

… And in a variety of color combinations!

Find out why now:

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Oko, Thief of Crowns is Finally Banned in Standard

Oko, Thief of Crowns was banned in Standard (and Brawl!) this week

We all knew Oko, Thief of Crowns had to Go

Standard was not, in many players’ estimations, in a healthy place.

Oko — along with some of his buddies, many of which are still legal — ushered in an era of unprecedented dominance. Six of the eight decks playing the single elimination rounds at Mythic Championship VI were Oko decks; and all eight were on Once Upon a Time.

There were alternatives to banning the best Planeswalker in recent memory, though. Unfortunately, any effort to keep Oko alive would have necessitated banning an enormous swath of [probably] innocent bystanders.

“A lot of innocent Planeswalkers and Geese would have to be sacrificed,” says Mike.

Here he’s talking about Gilded Goose and Nissa, Who Shakes the World. Nissa’s main offense is just being green. Arguably not even in the best [pre-bans] deck.

Once Upon a Time and Veil of Summer ate the Ban Hammer too

Once Upon a Time…
This card was legal in Standard

Veil of Summer was even more ubiquitous than Oko! Almost all the Oko decks played it (or even played four), and non-Oko decks also did. For example, Gruul beatdown or Gruul Adventures decks.

Where to go next? one of the big jokes is that losing four copies of Once Upon a Time means that you might have to add as many as four lands to your deck!

You’ll just have to listen to this week’s podcast to find out!

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Wow these Mythic Championship VI Decks

Mythic Championship VI decks were rife with Oko, Thief of Crowns

To Begin With, Mythic Championship VI was “the most lopsided, the most homogeneous, Pro Tour in history”

Right before coverage started, Pro Tour Historian Emeritus Brian David-Marshall called up Mike.

He asked: “What was the percentage of Rebel decks at ‘Pro Tour Rebels’?”

“Pro Tour Rebels” was of course Pro Tour New York 2000… The first and last song of Lin Sivvi, Defiant Hero in Masques Block; famous for an overwhelming representation by one archetype (the aforementioned “Rebels”)… Despite being won by a Mono-Blue Rising Waters deck.

Forty-three percent.

To give you a frame of reference, Mythic Championship VI featured…

  • Over 70% Oko, Thief of Crowns,
  • Nearly that many Gilded Goose, and
  • A whopping 75.76% Once Upon a Time!

The top decks were Simic Food, Sultai Food, and Bant Food. Differences among them were not super pronounced; but if you weren’t one of them… You mostly got trounced. For its part, Simic was first, second, and third in this tournament when the dust settled!

All eight decks in the Top 8 — including one dissenting Golgari build and one Selesnya — packed not only Once Upon a Time but Veil of Summer.

Mythic Championship VI was, as Patrick says, “the most lopsided, most homogeneous, Pro Tour in history.”

Despite the Best Mythic Championship VI Decks Being Known, the Format Managed to Break!

Now despite the convergence around the core Food strategy, largely topping up on Nissa, Who Shakes the World and Hydroid Krasis, a dissenting Food — rather Cat Food — deck emerged and distinguished itself.

Somehow, amidst a Caw-Blade like line in the sand at this Pro Tour, Sultai Sacrifice managed to perform even better than its cousins. Trading in a Cauldron Familiar + Witch’s Oven for the default top end, Sultai Sacrifice performed even better than the three main Food decks against other Food decks… And absolutely murdered everyone else.

Playing an important event this weekend? Patrick heartily recommends Sultai Sacrifice!

In Other News, Veil of Summer was Banned in Pioneer This Week…

Basically, we think this is great.

Permission was already terrible in Pioneer; and Veil of Summer made it even worse. It also sets a great precedent for Standard…

What’s Next for Standard After Mythic Championship VI?

Clearly, if we are looking for any kind of a playable, balanced, format at all, Oko, Thief of Crowns has got to go.

The question is… Will anything else?

There are a lot of heavily played cards in Standard… But most of them don’t deserve a ban. Gilded Goose is just a fun creature; banning it would make Standard worse. Nissa, Who Shakes the World is a perfectly balanced, fair — if powerful — card… That just happens to be in the same colors as these broken Throne of Eldraine spells. Wicked Wolf? Come on!

The cards that have to be banned are Oko, and…

Once Upon a Time is an option. Michael doesn’t think this is going to happen in Standard, but maybe Once Upon a Time will become a thing of the past in Pioneer.

Veil of Summer, though? It’s already been banned in Pioneer. Why not Standard? The rate on Veil of Summer is just too good. It’s a permission spell, and an anti-permission spell. It’s a cantrip Dispel… But more flexible. You can just burn it to draw a card! Perhaps least civil of all, think about the poor Thought Erasure people. Oftentimes they have to play Thought Erasure to fix their hands… And then Veil happens?

Exactly.

We won’t know entirely what will be banned in Standard until next week; but it sure is fun to speculate. Listen now (but make sure to check back next week!):

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The Evolution of Fires of Invention

Fires of Invention is a rule-breaking card that’s already re-writing its own rules!

Fires of Invention – Week Two

We looked at a Jeskai Planeswalker deck last week that used the Fae of Wishes / Fires of Invention engine last week. Mike thought the combo was cool… But might be more funny than good.

One week in, and the combo is playing alongside Golos, Tireless Pilgrim and Field of the Dead!

One of the key differences given the shift in archetype is that the Golos version wants to keep playing its lands. Previously, a deck that topped up on five or six mana might not have an incentive to play additional lands. After all… It’s not using lands to cast any spells. That would allow a Jeskai Planeswlker deck to use excess lands to bounce Fae of Wishes for more and more uses of front-side Adventure, Granted.

Fae of Wishes gives you a dump for mana you’re not otherwise using, as well as something to do with excess lands.

But in a Field of the Dead deck, you actually want to keep playing lands! That’s how you get more and more 2/2 Zombie tokens (especially in the mirror match or pseudo-mirror).

Check Out this Cool Fires of Invention Play Pattern…

All the Golos / Field of the Dead Ramp decks are capable of big and powerful plays. But there’s big… And then there’s Big. What about this? [With Fires of Invention already on the battlefield]:

  1. Play Granted for 0 mana. Go and get Planar Cleansing.
  2. Fire off Planar Cleansing. You’ve now spent nine mana worth of cards but haven’t actually tapped any lands. You’ve also just destroyed your own Fires of Invention.
  3. Hard-cast Hydroid Krasis! This is a great use of lands you weren’t otherwise going to tap and you simultaneously unlocked your ability to cast more than two cards in one turn. If you’re really lucky, your giant Hydroid Krasis might have just given you another copy of Fires of Invention. At the very least, you have the biggest — if not only — creature in play and probably a whole new hand.

Limitations and Opportunities of the Fires of Invention Sideboard

The joke about Fae of Wishes / Fires of Invention setsups is that, while they can access a great many options to win Game One… They tend not to be able to sideboard very much. The deck that finished second at last weekend’s Open, for instance, had fourteen distinct sideboard cards… Most of which stayed in the sideboard in between games. Sure, you might want to shave a Deafening Clarion or three… But most of the time? You don’t sideboard much with this archetype.

Another subtle area of opportunity for the archetype is that much of the sideboard is constructed as if you already had both Fae of Wishes and Fires of Invention already in play. So… Tons of sweepers. Tons of cards that are difficult if not impossible to cast the old fashioned way.

Patrick in particular believes that the deck might get a little better if it had access to more cards that assumed Fae of Wishes, but not necessarily the powerful red enchantment.

The Best of the Rest…

This week’s podcasts includes but is not limited to…

  • Other Golos decks
  • Fun tricks with Kenrith, the Returned King
  • Teferi or Oko?
  • Infinite aggro

… And, honestly? Quite a bit more. What are you waiting for?

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