The Real Cost of Bontu’s Last Reckoning

Bontu's Last Reckoning
Bontu’s Last Reckoning costs three mana. That’s great! Isn’t it?
What a difference a week makes!

… Depending on what continent you are on.

The Return of Spell Queller in Manila

Spell Queller
The biggest disconnect with recent history IN THE WORLD took place at Grand Prix Manila. We saw the return of the U/W Flash deck… Now featuring Glory-Bound Initiate.

The U/W Flash archetype (and friends like Esper Vehicles) benefit somewhat by a decline in popularity of Mardu Vehicles… Our assessment is that the Heart of Kiran in Mardu Vehicles would run over the comparatively clunky U/W.

But U/W Flash is not about fighting Mardu. Aetherworks Marvel, on the other hand, is a perfect victim of Spell Queller. Basically, Dispel and Negate are the most common “cover” spells for Aetherworks Marvel at five and six mana, respectively… You can neither Negate nor Dispel a Spell Queller. On the other hand, Spell Queller’s 2/3 body is perfect for putting Marvel on a clock.

Ulvenwald Hydra and Shrine of the Forsaken Gods

Ulvenwald Hydra
No surprise that Aetherworks Marvel took down a US Grand Prix this weekend past.

No surprise that Standard master Brad Nelson was at the winning deck’s helm.

What’s cool? What’s different?

Brad used Ulvenwald Hydra to great effect in his build’s sideboard… Kind of “the difference that makes the difference.”

Basically, Ulvenwald Hydra was Brad’s “Nissa’s Renewwal” … An expensive green creature, but not nearly as expensive as Ulmamog. Brad could use the Hydra to make a huge threat on its own, but also as an accelerator. If he got Shrine of the Forsaken Gods he would be one two mana closer to hard casting any Ulamogs stuck in his hand.

Dissenter’s Deliverance is the Choice of Champions

’nuff said.

Bontu’s Last Reckoning and Our First Look at Hour of Devastation

In addition to lots of decks from three Grand Prix across three continents we hit on the three now-known cards from Hour of Devastation. The most interesting topic for this section is probably around the cost of Bontu’s Last Reckoning.

Ostensibly, this card costs three mana. That means that it has some synergy with Goblin Dark-Dwellers or certain Expertise cards. It would be a mistake to say that it is just a cheaper Damnation; the fact that it costs three is less of an advantage in most games (how big or dangerous are the creatures coming at you on turn three versus turn four). If you cast it later in the game, the mana restriction is actually pretty disadvantageous.

Net-net, though, we think it will be heavily played.

Direct Download

  • 425
  •  
  •  
  •  
  •  

Amonkhet in Modern

New Set on the Block Amonkhet had a pretty good weekend in Modern, across three continents, last week. Amonkhet cards contributed to all of the main macro archetypes: Control, Combo, and Beatdown!

Amonkhet Control: Glory-Bound Initiate in Esper

Glory-Bound Initiate
At Grand Prix Kobe, Akio Chiba slotted Glory-Bound Initiate into his creature-poor Esper Control deck, Stonefore Mystic style.

“Glory-Bound Initiate is legal in the format.”
-Patrick

Can’t disagree with you there!

Chiba played a four Painful Truths deck, where the life gain from Glory-Bound Initiate could be really effective in fueling his main card advantage engine. Glory-Bound Initiate is just that good in Modern!

Subtly, exerting Glory-Bound Initiate may not have that much of a downside, as opponents may actively try to trade with it.

Amonkhet Combo: Vizier of Remedies in Collected Company decks

Vizier of Remedies + Devoted Druid is an infinite mana engine.

Devoted Druid
Devoted Druid says “Put a -1/-1 counter on me and I’ll untap.”

Vizier of Remedies says “Go ahead and untap. But Don’t worry about the -1/-1 counter, no problem.”
Once you’ve got infinite green mana access, the world (or at least your deck) is your oyster. Here are some of the things players did last weekend:

  • Draw every creature in my deck with Duskwatch Recruiter. One of those creatures is Walking Ballista. Pay however much. Get you for however much.
  • Combine with Knight of the Reliquary and Kessig Wolf-Run for infinite power (and trample).
  • Overrun all with Ezuri, Renegade Leader. The coolest thing about this version is that even if you have to tap all your guys to set up / make the infinite mana, you can still untap Devoted Druid to be your lone attacker… With infinite power!

Amonkhet Aggro: Harsh Mentor in Burn

Harsh Mentor
Meanwhile back in Baltimore, MD — USA — Pro Tour Top 8 competitor Stephen Neal added a Harsh Mentor as his “fifth copy” of Eidolon of the Great Revels.

Neal’s version was super atypical for Burn (at least since the release of Inspiring Vantage), going up to some fifteen creatures… But still finding room for some unique spell choices.

Shard Volley, anyone?

What is important for Amonkhet fans is that Harsh Mentor might be Burn’s best friend in certain matchups. Of course it makes life harder on the fetchland player, but think about Affinity: Harsh Mentor makes doing stuff like activating an Arcbound Ravager downright dangerous.

TLDR: Amonkhet hit Modern hard last weekend; and it hit from Control, Combo, and Beatdown. Obviously more on this story as the format continues to develop.

Listen to “Amonkhet in Modern” now for even more decks and details:

Direct Download

How Many Copies of Pull from Tomorrow?

Pull from Tomorrow
With the rise of U/R Control in Standard, Pull from Tomorrow reaches center stage…
or does it?

U/R Control (generally with Pull from Tomorrow) really took off last weekend!

U/R Control made Top 8 of both Grand Prix Montreal and Grand Prix Santiago. This was a big pickup, post-Pro Tour, for an archetype that did not crack Top 8 at PT Amonkhet.

In Montreal, Maxime Aubin played only a single Pull from Tomorrow.

But in Santiago, Niels Noorlander made numerous departures in his Top 8 deck…

  • Only 24 land! For contrast, Aubin played 26 and (at Pro Tour Amonkhet Patrick played 27)
  • 3 copies of Sweltering Suns (instead of just one or two)
  • Just 3 copies of Censor (which seems odd given only 24 lands)…
  • But 4 Hieroglyphic Illumination! (maybe this helps out his low land total)

Hieroglyphic Illumination versus Pull from Tomorrow

Pull from Tomorrow is the more powerful card, sure; comparable (and maybe even better than) Sphinx’s Revelation. The problem? It’s basically always expensive. So expensive, that in a pressure filled format this ace has been reduced to as few as one copy main deck.

Can you realistically slot in Hieroglyphic Illumination?

Hieroglyphic Illumination is almost always going to be worse that Glimmer of Genius… Provided you plan on casting it. (Scry being as valuable as it is)

On the other hand, Hieroglyphic Illumination has another mode!

  • If you are going to cycle it, U is a great (and cheap) way to go
  • Putting an instant in your graveyard is great when you are a deck with four copies of Torrential Gearhulk
  • Upping your one mana cycliers so much may justify lowering your land counts

U/R Control in Context

Tons of removal, one-for ones, and card advantage make for a great lineup against Zombies.

Permission, consistent ability to hit land drops, and card drawing make U/R a contender against Aetherworks Marvel.

Put it all together? You might have a real option against the most popular decks from Pro Tour Amonkhet.

Check out “How Many Copies of Pull from Tomorrow?” for more discussion on these cards, plus G/R Energy, Bant Marvel, and more!

Direct Download

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”

Direct Download

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:

Direct Download

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:

Direct Download

Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo

Anointed Procession
It might not look it at first glance, but Anointed Procession is going to enable infinite everything.

Sensei’s Diving Top – Banned in Legacy!

“Sensei’s Divining Top gets no hat tip from me. There are very few cards — probably zero in the history of Magic — that have cost as many human lifetimes as Sensei’s Divining Top.”
-Patrick Chapin

Patrick and MichaelJ open on a tearful* goodbye to Sensei’s Divining Top. While the Top has drawn some bad press due to eating up the clock in recent years, there is no denying its contribution to a number of impossibly inventive decks. Cards from Kodama’s Reach to Shrapnel Blast to Counterbalance have all reached the top of the metagame.

Speaking of Banned Cards…

What will be obvious to you listening to this podcast is that the boys recorded “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” before this week’s last minute addendum to the Banned and Restricted list.

So yes, Patrick does a little Felidar Guardian + Liliana brewing… But there are still lots of other great nuggets in this episode (we think).

For instance:

Going Infinite with Anointed Procession

Anointed Procession + Eldrazi Displacer + Drowner of Hope is an infinite combo.

How does this work?

With Anointed Procession on the battlefield, Drowner of Hope will make four 1/1 tokens rather than just two.

It costs three total mana to activate Eldrazi Displacer; three mana will blink Drowner of Hope, putting the aforementioned four tokens into play. That means that you can net one token per cycle (again assuming Anointed Procession is there).

This combination gives you as many Icy Manipulators as you would like… Except they can also attack for infinite damage.

The advantage of this combination is that Eldrazi Displacer and Drowner of Hope are actually “good cards” rather than just combination pieces. After all, even if Anointed Procession is not part of your equation, Drowner of Hope is seven power across three bodies for “just” six mana.

Even without the Eldrazi, Anointed Procession is a surprisingly effective card.

How interested would you be in Nissa, Voice of Zendikar into this enchantment? Making two 0/1 Plant tokens per activation seems like a heck of a defense. How about good old Gideon, Ally of Zendikar and Anointed Procession at the same time? Did the best card of the previous format get even better?

We shall see!

Put another way, if your deck is full of token makers, Anointed Procession will increase the impact of one and all.

No, this podcast is not mostly about this cool new combo. There is also Patrick’s argument that Zombies will be Tier One, Mike’s continued love of cycling, and of course some misplaced metagaming around Felidar Guardian.

Give “Anointed Procession Makes the Next Infinite Combo” a listen now:

Direct Download

* Okay maybe not that tearful in Patrick’s case.

If They Tap Out for Drake Haven… Kill ’em!

Drake Haven
Drake Haven will be a defining card from Amonkhet

Drake Haven might be Mike’s favorite card from Amonkhet…

.. Whatever that means.

Sure, it’s Lightning Rift-like (or Astral Slide-like, if you prefer). It screams to collaborate with tons and tons of cyclers printed in the vary same set. Untap with Drake Haven in play, and you have a ready-made source of defense, card advantage, and damage all at once. Mike thinks that Drake Haven could be a centerpiece of the new Standard… After all, it can counter and overwhelm Gideon, is highly synergistic with your own sweepers, and can chase down many Planeswalkers in the air, (at least when you have a turn).

But almost by definition, many playing this card will give you a window to attack.

Turn Three Kills

Flameblade Adept + Noose Constrictor + Shadow of the Grave

There are multiple variations on this kill, and some variability based on play or draw. The simple scenario works like this:

  1. Game TrailĀ + Flameblade Adept
  2. Attack for 1 (19), Swamp + Noose Constrictor
  3. On your draw you have five cards in hand [on the play]. If you discard all of them but one, Noose Constrictor becomes six power, and your Flameblade Adept goes to five power; now use your last card (Shadow of the Grave) to re-buy the four cards you discarded. Discard them again and Noose Contrictor becomes 10 and Flameblade Adept goes to nine. Good thing you pinged for one last turn!

Build Your Own Baneslayer Angel

While maybe not the best against Drake Haven decks directly, White Weenie decks seems to be getting a boost from Amonkhet. Always Watching was always a powerful card to play with the little white men, but combined with the new exert mechanic? Nothing but undercosted, potentially advantageous, attackers!

Glory-Bound Initiate is a perfect option. It comes down on turn two (a turn before Always Watching) and can help you build your own Baneslayer Angel.

Glory-Bound Initiate
Glory-Bound Initiate can become 4/4 on its own, but may have to slow down. Enter Always Watching
Dozens of cards are explored in this podcast. Mike and Patrick can’t wait to play Amonkhet!

Direct Download

Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10

Nissa, Steward of Elements
Nissa, Steward of Elements breaks — or at least bends — many rules

What an interesting Planeswalker!

What a glorious set of abilities!

A perceptive mage might even point out that Nissa’s casting cost is itself kind of a special ability… It is after all something special, something we haven’t seen before, at XGU.

For one thing, you can cast Nissa, Steward of Elements for a mere GU. This is not a typical play, though, as Nissa will go directly into the graveyard if you do so… But maybe that’s okay. Maybe you’re on the Delirium track and you are okay spending two mana to put the Planeswalker type into your graveyard. Or maybe you’ve previously cast an Oath of Gideon or Oath of Ajani, letting you get away with that cheat.

But even at 1GU Nissa is part of the rare breed of “three” mana Planeswalkers. The original Jace Beleren, as well as a number of Lilianas, have proven tournament Staples due to being only three mana. Nissa can come down for 1GU and immediately tick up with the [+2] to “start” at three loyalty (while giving you a nice look at the top of your library).

[+2] : Scry 2.

Nissa’s “plus” ability is perfectly serviceable. It’s not the most exciting plus ability, but it does a couple of things well in her context. As we’ve already said, starting the three mana version of Nissa at three loyalty is potentially solid. Especially early, the ability to add two loyalty to Nissa can act as a proxy for defending herself.

Separately, Scry 2 is extremely synergistic with Nissa’s second ability. Because it goes two deep you can know what you will hit, even after your next draw step, meaning you can theoretically ensure a 100% hit rate.

[0] : Look at the top card of your library. If it’s a land card or a creature card with converted mana cost less than or equal to the number of loyalty counters on Nissa, Steward of Elements, you may put that card onto the battlefield.

Nissa’s second ability is erratic, but potentially powerful. If you use the Scry 2 ability, you can ensure a hit… But you don’t 100% need to. If Nissa is already at very high loyalty you might be able to hit even a big fatty like Ulamog or Torrential Gearhulk. Your worst case is of course using Nissa blind and missing, but on the low(ish) end you can also just use this as a mana ramp ability.

It is not out of the question to use Nissa, immediately [0], hit a land, and have five or even six mana available the next turn. A more consistent play pattern might be to reveal two lands with [+2], draw one of the lands, and [0] the other into play. Three straight to five!

Nissa is probably going to draw fire for “not protecting herself” but that isn’t 100% the case. The [+2] gives Nissa a bit of resiliency, but the ability to even sometimes land a creature to block is also a measure of defense (though, again, not super consistent).

[-6] : Untap up to two target lands you control. They become 5/5 Elemental creatures with flying and haste until end of turn. They’re still lands.

This ability is what sets Nissa, Steward of Elements apart.

Who cares if she doesn’t defend herself if your intention is not to keep Nissa, Steward of Elements around? For the bargain price of eight mana (6GU) you can just Fireball your opponent for ten! Take ten in the air! Blammo!

The “take ten” [-6] is not the most flashy or powerful Ultimate in the history of Planeswalkers, but its speed is like nothing we have ever seen before. A Ramp deck can land this ability out of nowhere. We can even imagine consecutive turns of ten plus ten, winning with no non-Nissa-Ultimate damage.

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin blows it all away with an additional observation:

“What if you just play her for nine?”

Nissa and Liliana are joined by Sphinxes, Beasts, and 2/2 flying tokens in “Nissa, Steward of Elements Will Get You for 10”

Direct Download

Amonkhet Brings NEW PERSPECTIVES

New Perspectives
New Perspectives, from Amhonkhet
MichaelJ and Patrick return for a special bonus episode! Top Level Podcast has an exclusive preview from Amonkhet.

When New Perspectives enters the battlefield, draw three cards.

New Perspectives starts more-or-less the best way a card can: By helping you draw three cards! In.

(Or, at least, we are interested in further exploration.)

Six mana is a bit steep for the ability to draw three cards, but Patrick claims that this card is actually a “draw four” … One of the cards is just a zero mana Fluctuator.

Because New Perspectives is a permanent rather than a sorcery (compare to Tidings), you can pick it up or blink it (perhaps with Felidar Guardian) to draw more and more.

As long as you have seven or more cards in hand, you may pay 0 rather than pay cycling costs.

This second line is what puts the “new” in the name. We aren’t just talking about a Fluctuator… This card is expensive but far more powerful.

For one, New Perspectives will handle colored mana in a cycling cost, not just discount a 2 to 0. It opens the door to some big opportunities. For instance, why not start with Archfiend of Ifnir on five, untap with the Demon still in play, and then run out New Perspectives? Having (or drawing into) just one or two cycling cards — TAPPED OUT — can totally swing the board.

This card represents — we think — a whole new way to play.

Check it out:

Direct Download