Rampaging, Ramunap, Rivals, and Rants

Lots of bans in Standard this week. But Rampaging Ferocidon?

Rampaging Ferocidon

Rampaging Ferocidon Banned in Standard

Of the four most recent bans, three are relatively understandable.

  • Attune with Aether – Perhaps the most obvious of the Standard bans, Attune with Aether is the quintessential one mana manipulation spell that is just too good. There is ample precedent for cards like Ponder and Preordain being banned at the one. Why not Attune with Aether? Attune with Aether is essentially a Lay of the Land (a “good enough” card) with an Energy add-on.
  • Rogue Refiner – Rogue Refiner is just a cantrip. It’s a 3/2 creature for only three mana that does two things. Unfortunately one of which is “draw a card”. Rogue Refiner is probably a little too good, but it isn’t clear it would or should have been banned if not for all the other Energy cards.
  • Ramunap Ruins – So it turns out that Temur Energy wasn’t even the highest performing deck in Standard. Ramunap Red was! While Ramunap Red might have been challenged by Temur Energy, it was absolutely great at killing everyone who didn’t buy into the “there are only two decks” Standard paradigm. Ramunap Ruins is the card that sets this deck apart. Getting rid of Ramunap Ruins makes room for other decks post-ban.

So these three make sense.

You might not have bet on Ramunap Ruins… But it makes sense.

Rampaging Ferocidon wasn’t the best, or the second-best, or the eighth-best card in Mono-Red. In fact, many Mono-Red decks didn’t even play four copies main deck!

The Brilliance of Banning Rampaging Ferocidon

While counter-intuitive, the Rampaging Ferocidon ban is wonderful in a certain light.

Forget for a moment about the Randy Buehler-era paradigm of banning only the broken cards. What about banning cards that make the format less fun?

The problem with Rampaging Ferocidon is that it makes it very — very — difficult to sideboard against Red Decks. It’s nice to be able to side in life gain cards and have them work, right? But even cards like Regal Caracal become liabilities… It stinks to trigger Rampaging Ferocidon but not be able to cash in on lifelink.

And Rivals of Ixalan, Too!

While most of this podcast is a discussion of the recent bans (plus a master class in game design by Patrick), we would be remiss to leave out some of the new cards that, you know, came out last week.

What red creature might make a massive impact coming up?

A flyer that pre-empts Glorybringer and might even compete with Hazoret, the Fervent?

Check out “RRRR” to find out!

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This episode is sponsored by ZipRecruiter. Top Level Podcast listeners can post jobs to ZipRecruiter for FREE at Ziprecruiter.com/TopLevel


Chasing Sanctum of the Sun

Sanctum of the Sun
Sanctum of the Sun is really — really — powerful

Azor’s Gateway Transforms into Sanctum of the Sun

Azor's Gateway
Azor’s Gateway — the front side of today’s Legendary Land — is itself a pretty good card. It is both cheaper than Jalum Tome, and cheaper to use (believe it or not Jalum Tome was once a Role Player-level Standard card).

Yes, it sucks that Azor’s Gateway exiles cards instead of simply discarding them to the graveyard, but (and you’ll probably figure this out in a couple of sentences) that would simply be too powerful once you’ve flipped the Legendary Artifact into Legendary Land.

Remember – zeroes are close to free, due to land cards.

Cut // Ribbons is Best Buddies with Sanctum of the Sun

Cut // Ribbons
When you flip Azor’s Gateway into its final form, you gain five life and have an insane mana engine. Your expectation will almost never be less than an immediate burst of six mana of any color, no matter what hoops you had to jump through to get there.

Imagine you simply have the same life total as your opponent when Azor’s Gateway flips…

Aren’t they basically dead if you have Cut // Ribbons in your graveyard? If you have, say, twenty life (and the opponent has twenty life) you will go to twenty-five. You can immediately untap Azor’s Gateway and tap its opposite number for twenty-five black mana, even if there are no other sources of black in your deck. This nets out to twenty-three life from Ribbons! Boom!

The Cut side of Cut // Ribbons has long been a Role Player-level option. It looks like this card — which is highly serviceable as a fast reactive card — may jump colossally in value now that getting it into the graveyard basically kills the opponent.

Remember a moment ago when we were lamenting the exile v. discard limitation on Azor’s Gateway? Can you imagine how disastrous simple discarding would be given the incentive of getting Ribbons into your graveyard? This is already a great combination! They can’t make it too easy, can they?

Cut // Ribbons acts like a two but is technically a four; that makes it fast enough to defend you front-side, while essentially ensuring victory later. Best. Buddies.

What About Untapping Sanctum of the Sun?

Zacama, Primal Calamity
This Legendary Land is already pregnant with possibilities… But what if you can actually untap it?

In “Chasing Sanctum of the Sun” Patrick argues passionately for the power level of Zacama, Primal Calamity. This Elder Dinosaur might be the payoff that Ramp decks have been looking for since the rotation of the Eldrazi cards. While Zacama doesn’t have a built-in durability, it can destroy many different kinds of permanents, as well as generate a massive life buffer. The fact that Zacama has CMC 9 is awesome with Azor’s Gateway… I mean, how many nines do you think you can possibly play? It both drives diversity of casting cost for purposes of flipping and gives you an outlet to discard redundant uncastable giants.

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Jadelight Ranger and More Rivals of Ixalan

Jadelight Ranger
Our further Rivals of Ixalan review begins with Jadelight Ranger
If there is one thing Mike is famous for, it’s playing some goofball green three drops over the years.

Gnarled Mass is one such green creature; but at 3/3 for three mana — and essentially no other capabilities it is a head scratcher that someone would be able to win with it. The secret, of course, is that Gnarled Mass was never “good” per se. But a 3/3 for three mana could slow down an opposing 2/2 Bushido.

Ditto on Borderland Ranger. And by “Borderland Ranger” we mean Civic Wayfinder. So deep was Mike’s love of three mana creatures that could search up a land, when he won with U/R Splinter Twin, he did so with a Pilgrim’s Eye in his main.

But what about the belle of this week’s ball?

How does Jadelight Ranger compare?

Jadelight Ranger versus Gnarled Mass

Jadelight Ranger seems like a generally stronger card than Gnarled Mass.

Gnarled Mass was a Spirit — which was good, but could also be a liability in Kamigawa Block — but was basically always a 3/3 for three mana.

If you’re going for size, Jadelight Ranger can be a 4/3 (2/1 with two +1/+1 counters) for the same casting cost. The superior size (sometimes) comes with two Scry triggers! So… Secelction as well as size.

Obvious point: If you want to have a large Jadelight Ranger, and you are lucky enough to “miss” on your first trigger, you can just leave the card on top, guaranteeing you will grow on the second trigger as well.

Jadelight Ranger versus Borderland Ranger

Borderland Ranger has a couple of advantages over Jadelight Ranger.

For one, 2G is easier to cast than 1GG… But not so much easier.

Borderland Ranger also offers true selection. If you have one Island in your library, you can go find it every single time rather than waiting for your White Knight. Jadelight Ranger lacks that level of precision…. lacks this certainty. But it makes up with sheer potential card advantage.

Just as Jadelight Ranger can be bigger than Gnarled Mass sometimes, it can produce more lands than Borderland Ranger sometimes, too! Instead of just one land, it can draw more than one. Compare to: Divination.

Jadelight Ranger versus Rogue Refiner

So sometimes Jadelight Ranger is a 4/3. If you have a Winding Constrictor in play, that might actually jump to, say, 6/5.

And sometimes, it stays 2/1 but draws two lands.

In both cases, you get to scry twice, which is powerful.

But in the middle? It is just a 3/2 that draws you one additional land.

You know what we call a 3/2 creature that produces one extra card? Rogue Refiner.

And while Jadelight Ranger is probably not “better” than Rogue Refiner (less control on size, never draws into a spell, doesn’t make energy) even being in the same conversation with one of the best creatures in Standard is significant.

This Merfolk Scout is only the first card we discuss!

More Rivals of Ixalan than you can shake a stick at, right here.

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Exclusive Preview – Dire Fleet Poisoner

Dire Fleet Poisoner
Dire Fleet Poisoner is our exclusive Rivals of Ixalan preview!

Dire Fleet Poisoner is Incredibly Flexible

A 2/2 Deathtouch creature for only two mana, Dire Fleet Poisoner can play Terror in a pinch.

Much like Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, and the Alpha classic, this card can trade for most creatures at instant speed for just two mana.

Drop Dire Fleet Poisoner during combat and block… And you can trade with just about anything one-for-one. Even creatures that can sometimes dodge one-for-one removal (like Bristling Hydra) can’t plead hexproof here… A block will make for a trade, no matter how big the attacker.

Of course, as a 2/2 creature, this Human Pirate can kill 1/x creatures (no matter how tough) and live to tell the tale.

Flash and Deathtouch, go!

Dire Fleet Poisoner’s Brilliant Buff

Dire Fleet Poisoner can crash on curve… Imagine you play a first turn Daring Buccaneer. You attack with it and the opponent tosses a Shock at your 2/2.

This card can save your creature while forcing home additional damage.

It can save an attacking Hostage Taker from Abrade, for instance.

It can also help you into favorable trades. For instance, if you are attacking with Kari Zev and the opponent is forced to double block (say, due to menace), the ability to provide both a second point of power and deathtouch can make for an advantageous trade.

… And you get to keep the 2/2 deathtouch body!

Dire Fleet Poisoner is Fast and Flexible

Will there be B/R Pirates? Chances are, this card will help drive the creature choices.

How about B/U? Hostage Taker is a heck of a Pirate.

Want to know more? Check out the podcast:

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Top Legacy Podcast

Brainstorm is the most popular spell in Legacy

Legacy will return to the Pro Tour in 2018

For the first time in a decade, Legacy will return, as a format, to the Pro Tour.

This time, it will represent 1/3 of the formats in the upcoming Team events (alongside Standard and Modern). With 2017 winding down, Patrick and Michael thought it a great time to showcase the most popular cards and strategies of the Legacy format.

Legacy and “the Brainstorm Experience”

As stated above, Brainstorm is the most popular spell in Legacy. Part of that is that, unlike some other formats, you can actually play four copies of Brainstorm!

If you are in the market for a Brainstorm, there are many similar options. Ponder is the second most popular spell, for instance. Unlike Brainstorm, Ponder allows you to shuffle your library without an additional card.

That said, Brainstorm has a couple of things going for it beyond some of the competition. Most importantly is Brainstorm’s synergy with fetchlands. Instead of just fixing your next draw, Brainstorm can actually correct your draw! Rip a creature removal spell against a combo deck? Brainstorm can potentially fix your hand by shuffling away the errant removal spell.

If you’re super into Brainstorm, beyond even the first four copies, you can select from Preordain, Serum Visions, Thought Scour, and many more.

Legacy is the Home to Very — Very — Cheap Spells

  1. Brainstorm – Brainstorm, the most popular spell in Legacy, not only costs a single blue mana, it potentially digs you to additional lands.
  2. Ponder – Whatever we just said about Brainstorm’s casting cost goes for Ponder early game as well.
  3. Force of Will – While Force of Will claims to be five mana, it is in fact played for zero mana more than half the time.
  4. Deathrite Shaman – The most popular creature in Legacy costs only one mana (whether it is black or green); further, Deathrite Shaman is itself a mana source.
  5. Surgical Extraction –
  6. Swords to Plowshares – Swords to Plowshares has not ceased costing a single white mana since Alpha.
  7. Flusterstorm – Flusterstorm is a powerful, largely Legacy-centric permission spell. Part Force Spike, generally much better than a Spell Pierce, Flusterstorm boasts the best of both cards… The single blue mana in their collective top-right corners.
  8. Gitaxian Probe – <
    Similar to Surgical Extraction, Gitaxian Probe is super cheap at only one Phyrexian blue mana… And like Surgical Extraction, Gitaxian Probe will be played for even less than one mana — zero — a high percentage of the time. This will especially be true in combo decks looking to drive through their libraries and / or play multiple spells in a single turn.
  9. Snapcaster Mage – The second-most popular creature in Legacy is a bit of an oddball. The only two casting cost card in the Legacy Top 10, Snapcaster Mage nonetheless lets you re-cast one of the other super cheap / hyper efficient spells on this list.
  10. Daze – Like Snapcaster Mage, Daze has 1U in its upper right; unlike Snapcaster Mage, you will very rarely pay any actual mana to play it. Not only that, playing Daze on your own turn will sometimes set you up to re-play the same land, untapped.

The extraordinarily low casting costs of this format’s spells depict many fast, hyper-efficient early game, decks; some of which play fewer than 20 lands due to their low curves and ability to see more than one card per turn.

Where will Patrick and Michael Start in Legacy?

You can probably guess.

But they still tell you.

To find out, check out this week’s podcast right here!

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Satisfying Vona’s Hunger

Vona's Hunger
Vona’s Hunger continues the proud tradition of “Diabolic Edict with upside” for three mana

Vona’s Hunger as Instant Edict

Diabolic Edict was the first.

It was like a Cruel Edict but better.

Over time we got a variety of three casting cost versions… Foul-Tongue Invocation, Tribute to Hunger, and Oath of Liliana are all three casting cost upgrades to the Edict model (whether instant or sorcery speed). All of them offered a little something extra — whether life gain or more card advantage — in exchange for a third mana.

Vona’s Hunger can line up almost unprecedented card advantage provided you have the city’s blessing.

And the rest of the time? More Edict action for group games 😉

New Keyword: “Ascend” on Vona’s Hunger

This instant has a cool new keyword. If you control ten or more permanents, you get something called “the city’s blessing” for the rest of the game. Presumably, you can have ten permanents the first time… But if you go below ten permanents upon casting a second Vona’s Hunger, you’ll still have the city’s blessing.

Presumably there will be more cards featuring these new terms; whether you ascend the same way (having ten or more permanents) on all of them is still a mystery.

When would Vona’s Hunger like the city’s blessing?

It isn’t difficult to imagine a time you might want Vona’s Hunger on three. For example, any time the opponent is trucking in with a lone Bristling Hydra, you might want a removal card that can kill it no matter how big, no matter how hexproof.

Any time the opponent is protecting a key threat — say an Electrostatic Pummeler – with Blossoming Defense backup, Vona’s Hunger might be the card you want.

But what about the big version? Who can take advantage of it, and when might they want to?

We haven’t seen tokens in a while, but the Anointed Procession decks are probably the most consistent at producing 10+ permanents. It’s difficult to evaluate the “big” version of this card. It’s kind of half a Wrath of God, but also asymmetrical (meaning it does not kill any of your creatures… Just half of the other guy’s).

You know when tokens might really, really want Vona’s Hunger?

The mirror.

More info here:

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The NEW Modern Rundown

Thundermaw Hellkite and Stormbreath Dragon
There are no Thundermaw Hellkites in this Modern episode. Even fewer Stormbreath Dragons.

… But there could have been.

It’s Modern! Don’t Blink

Modern is a great format! It’s waaaaay different from other formats, though. One way we know that is that we have such a hard time predicting what will be good from one week to the next.

What decks do you prepare for?





… and when you say “Jeskai” what exactly do you mean? Is it Geist of Saint Traft, Spell Queller decks, the new Search for Azcanta stuff… Or are you talking about warping in an Emrakul, the Aeons Torn?

Yet another look at Jeskai: Jeskai Breach, by Patrick Tierney

Who is to say?

Who is to say you’re not up against Thundermaw Hellkite this week?

I mean, it just so happens that this week the right answer was “giant green things” (whether Primeval Titan or Tron-based colorless bombs), but we think you take our meaning.

Don’t Forget the Graveyard! Black Resurgence in Modern

Patrick recently commented that the graveyard may be a place to angle for an advantage in this wide and wonderful format.

Was he predicting the future?

Despite weeks and weeks of Humans and Storm, the graveyard came back in a big way at Grand Prix Oklahoma City. Dredge and Living End almost can’t be more different (despite being two different graveyard-centric creature decks). These two very different decks both kicked butt, took names, and claimed Pro Tour invitations last weekend:

Don’t Blink! Dredge, and Living End from OKC

What Week is it Again? Modern Cuteness Hotness

A few weeks ago we started talking about the new / now-seminal Humans deck based on a critical mass of Unclaimed Territories. But what if, rather than pushing “Human” with our Cavern of Souls, we just play four copies of Sliver Hive?

Instead of the bobbing and weaving of Meddling Mage and Kitesail Freebooter, we may just see mono-offense.

To Wit: Slivers, by Chris Warren

These decks barely scratch the surface of this week’s Modern Rundown. Get ready for multiple Tron styles, double-combo Collected Company decks, and our intrepid duo completely ruining a perfectly wonderful Orzhov Zombies deck.

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Meet the Rivals of Ixalan

Rivals of Ixalan Brings a New Vraska

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon

A new Vraska? Yes.

A very good Vraska? The Scheming Gorgon is going to have a tough time competing with the Relic Seeker in Standard.

Seemingly the only advantage Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has over Vraska, Relic Seeker is in being mono-black. Vraska Scheming Gorgon’s best ability is her [-3] to destroy target creature…

This ability is woefully weaker than Vraska, Relic Seeker’s more flexible equivalent… That also produces Treasure.

Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has a potentially powerful [-10] ultimate ability… At least until you think about it for a minute. While this ability can theoretically win the game, practically speaking, you already have to have a substantial advantage to cash in.

You need to have gained loyalty for several turns without losing all your creatures.

You need to have more creatures than the opponent has creatures AND creature removal.

But if you can fulfill these conditions? Sure. Win the game.

Vraska and Angrath: Are They Rivals of Ixalan?

Angrath, Minotaur Pirate
Angrath, Minotaur Pirate

In opposition to Vraska is Angrath, a Minotaur Pirate.

While Angrath may not be the strongest Planeswalker in Standard, Mike thinks it is a straight-up upgrade relative to Vraska, Scheming Gorgon.

For one, Mike could at least imagine using the [+2] ability, and can imagine wanting to play this card to do so!

Say you are up against Mono-White Vampires or B/W Tokens. Wouldn’t you appreciate a recurring way to deal one damage to everything and everyone on the other side of the table? While gaining loyalty?

Mike is pretty “sign me up” for this as a sideboard card, but Patrick not only reserves ultimate judgment for now… He says that if Mike likes this card, he’ll probably LOVE the main set equivalent its existence implies.

Nitpick point: Angrath claims to be a Minotaur PIRATE (even says so in the name) but could not theoretically target itself with that [-3].

The Primal Command of Rivals of Ixalan?

One of the cool features of the beginner Planeswalker decks is the existence of a Tutor to go find a deck’s centerpiece character.

Mike doesn’t hate this one:

Angrath’s Fury
Mike compares it to Primal Command.

Is hie crazy?

Both cards cost five. Both cards affect life total and do multiple things; Primal Command often attacked a land; Angrath’s Fury basically always kills a creature.

Okay, okay: Crazy

Patrick and Mike also chat decks past and present, and visit a successful Standard deck… That eschews Longtusk Cub despite running Attune with Aether.

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Cryptic Command is Good in All of the Spots

Cryptic Command
Every card in your deck has purpose some of the time; Cryptic Command is the card that is the best, the most.

Welcome Back to Modern, Cryptic Command!

One of the most successful [new-ish] decks in Modern is Jeskai Control.

This archetype, featuring Search for Azcanta from Ixalan has reinvigorated pure control in the format.

Seminal to this strategy is the power of Search for Azcanta to flip into Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. In its mana-mode, this card implies the availability of four mana. You can leave up four, and threaten Cryptic Command. If you don’t have to use the Cryptic Command, you have four lands to go find it.

Former US National Champion Ali Aintrazi played a version at a recent StarCityGames event, moving up to Nahiri, the Harbinger and Torrential Gearhulk as his late game heavy-handed threats.

Nahiri is particularly exciting in this archetype. She can discard cards to help flip Search for Azcanta, and will dig you to a big Torrential Gearhulk.

Also decks WITHOUT Cryptic Command

In the spirit of gearing Mike up for the upcoming #SCGInvi in Roanoke, Virigina, our intrepid duo goes over all kinds of decks beyond the soaring Jeskai Control…

  • Storm Combo – ever thought about playing Runed Halo on “Gifts Ungiven”?
  • Humans – now featuring “colorless” spells like Dismember!
  • Grixis Death’s Shadow – including all the one-ofs, spice, and strategies
  • Jund – with Hazoret the Fervent!
  • (and lots more)

When do you play FOUR copies of Cryptic Command?

  • Whenever it’s right!
  • … and half the time, when it’s not 😉

Check out this meditation on Modern now!

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Tetzimoc, Primal Death and the Rivals of Ixalan

Tetzimoc, Primal Death
Tetzimoc, Primal Death is a Legendary Creature – Elder Dinosaur

“God I hope this isn’t a Standard format where this isn’t good.”

Tetzimoc, Primal Death Invalidates “real” cards

This Legendary Creature – Elder Dinosaur almost doesn’t seem real.

Will there be efficient ways to get rid of prey counters? If not, Tetzimoc is going to act as a Plague Wind — a one-way Wrath of God — quite often.

What is the low end of Tetzimoc’s performance? Double Nekrataal? Just a couple of life points off of Noxious Gearhulk? It seems really powerful either way.

In any case, Tetzimoc leaves a large body with deathtouch on the battlefield. It provides not just a high potential for card advantage, but advances your board at the same time.

It is conceivable, unfortunately, that Tetzimoc will not be good. How could that be?

This creature is great against regular creatures, if even very good, efficient, or huge versions. It would be much less effective in a format based on Energy 187 creatures like Rogue Refiner, nothing but haste, or combo decks.

Tetzimoc is not the only Elder Dinosaur…

Ghalta, Primal Hunger
If you are unsure of the most broken thing you can possibly do with Ghalta, Primal Hunger, what about just starting on a Regisaur Alpha? That costs five mana and puts seven power in play. Seven down leaves Ghalta eminently cast-able.

Imagine this with haste!

On the one hand, Ghalta, Primal Hunger is an exceptional reason for Dinosaurs to finally graduate to Tier One in Standard.

But not for nothing… Decks based around the Primal Hunger are going to get their lunch eaten by decks based on the Primal Death, if you grok.

But Wait, There’s More!

This week we hit all five currently spoiled Rivals of Ixalan cards, not just the Dinosaurs.

Ever wanted to learn about the nuances between personal Mana Flare and personal Howling Mine? Check out “Tetzimoc, Primal Death and the Rivals of Ixalan” right now!

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