Exclusive UMA Preview: Sovereigns of Lost Alara

Sovereigns of Lost Alara
Sovereigns of Lost Alara was the defining centerpiece to a powerful strategy.

This spirit is big…

But it’s not really that big for its cost. I mean… 4/5 for six? That barely qualifies as a fatty. Now 4/5 for four might be more like it.

Well… Sovereigns of Lost Alara did have Exalted. When attacking alone, it was more of a 5/6 for six, right? Sure, sure. But maybe more importantly, its Exalted had “haste”. Like, if you had a creature already in play, it could attack and get the Exalted.

But still… 4/5 for…

What about 15/16 for six?

Fifteen-sixteen? What are you talking about, Willis?

Eldrazi Conscription
How about you go and get Eldrazi Conscription?

Oh yeah, there’s that second clause after “Exalted”. If you attacked with a creature alone — Sovereigns or someone else — you could search your library for an Aura and play it for free. It just made sense to play a huge one that had a huge impact on the game (that you wouldn’t normally want to pay retail for).

Enter: One of the most successful Standard decks of its era.

Give our little preview / recap a listen:

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Supreme Phantom – How is This a Real Magic Card?

Supreme Phantom
Supreme Phantom

How is Supreme Phantom a Real Magic Card?

Not so long ago, our own beloved MichaelJ played a 1/3 creature for 1U. Its goal was just to slow down the many 2/1 creatures of the Standard Red deck of the time. The U in its upper-right helped to power up Master of Waves, but this card had to, more or less, contribute successfully on its own.

This card served Mike super well. He sided it in in the Top 8 of the Regional PTQ, essentially cancelling all the Foul-Tongue Invocations his opponent had drawn. That card was, of course, Omenspeaker.

Omenspeaker was fine. Unexciting, but Mike really wanted it for the 1/3 body. Compare that to Supreme Phantom…

Supreme Phantom is also a 1/3 creature for 1U. But instead of a fairly minor Scry ability, it has two abilities… And they’re both doozies. Flying is maybe the best keyword evasion ability in Magic, and its +1/+1 buff ability makes the card a perfect anchor for the Bant Spirits archetype.

Supreme Phantom in Bant Spirits

Supreme Phantom is obviously a great card in Bant Spirits. The Grand Prix winning list by Peiyuan Zheng plays double-digit Spirits. That starts the Phantom off with tons of potential buddies to buff. But even better? Hexproof!

With Geist of Sant Traft, or, perhaps more importantly, Drogskol Captain, many a Spirit will live to smash many a face.

Bant Spirits in the Modern Context

Besides its awesome sideboard options to dominate KCI or Dredge, Bant Spirits has a solid game plan of its own.

It’s got the StOmPy draw enabled by the Phantom; Bant can turn up the speed sometimes! It’s got Spell Queller. But not only that, it’s got Collected Company off the green splash! This gives Bant Spirits essentially eight permission spells in Game One (as the Company can hit Queller).

While not the most specialized archetype, Bant Spirits did win the Extended Grand Prix last week, and that makes it more than worth discussing / looking at.

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Watch Out for Tocatli Honor Guard

Tocatli Honor Guard
Tocatli Honor Guard will be a main-deck four-of

Tocatli Honor Guard Just Got a Promotion

This card was previously largely a sideboard card; Patrick himself played it in his R/W Control deck as a foil for Energy triggers. Today, the Honor Guard is an amazing inclusion specifically to stifle the Golgari Midrange deck.

Golgari relies heavily on the 187 effects of its creatures. You cant — you actually can’t — remove a Tocatli Honor Guard from play with a Ravenous Chupacabra. Worse yet, Golgari will often he in a situation where it needs its Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger to hit lands.

With the Honor Guard in play?

If you started out manascrewed, you’re staying manascrewed.

Tocatli Honor Guard is Played in Boros and Selesnya

Both of the white aggro strategies played the Honor Guard at Grand Prix New Jersey.

For Boros, the Honor Guard took the spot of Knight of Grace. For Selesnya, playing this card means killing its own darlings. Simply, you don’t get to play your own Explore guys.

On the other hand, you really do beat up anyone relying on creature-based 187 engines. In addition, it is a 1/3 creature, and therefore, pretty good at blocking the Red Deck.

Don’t Sleep on Jeskai

Eli Kassis broke the Jeskai archetype wide open in New Jersey. Instead of Cracking Drake, Eli played Azor’s Gateway. Not only does this give him something to dow with his extra lands (especially given his enormous mana count) it flips consistently for Banefire and Expansion // Explosion. Azor’s Gateway into Sanctum of the Sun represents a meaningful different dimension for the control strategy. Banefire for, say 24 will be uncounterable.

Check it:

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Will Tajic, Legion’s Edge Take Over Modern?

Tajic, Legion's Edge
Will Tajic, Legion’s Edge break into a Humans deck near you?

Tajic, Legion’s Edge provides Humans with Many Tools

Kevin Ambler added Tajic, Legion’s Edge to his Top 8 deck from last week’s Modern Open. Tajic provides many awesome advantages to a Humans deck:

  • Tajic has much of the Mantis Rider to him. Mantis Rider was one of the highest performing cards in Humans before, and this is another three-power hasty attacker
  • Exalted is a little bit of a non-bo with Mentor, but to that Mantis Rider comment, above, Tajic is a sweet follow-up to Noble Hierarch on turn two
  • Further, you can drop Tajic with an Aether Vial mid-combat [with mana open]… And get a sweet block!
  • Most importantly, Tajic’s “Prevent all noncombat damage that would be dealt to other creatures you control” clause is just bananas in a deck with 35 other creatures! You can drop Tajic at instant speed not only for a sweet block, but to “counter” a burn spell. This can shut down cards like Izzet Staticaster or Grim Lavamancer that often lock down Humans. This card is amazing against sweepers. Trade your Tajic for a Slagstorm? Trade Tajic for the rest of your team.
  • “Very impressive advancement by Kevin.”

    “Could become industry-standard.”

Guilds of Ravnica is Poppin’ in Modern!

Tajic might be the most archetype-influencing, but he certainly wasn’t alone in Guilds of Ravnica’s additions to the format. Further highlights:

  • Risk Factor in Jund? Michael loves it, but is not in love with it. Patrick respects Risk Factor’s interaction with Liliana of the Veil. Both our hosts agree that for a deck that is sometimes beatdown, sometimes card advantage… You’re not likely to get the beatdown when you want it, and not likely to get the card advantage when you want it. But it won!
  • Creeping Chill in Dredge! One of the week’s most exciting innovations, Creeping Chill is turning the Dredge deck design on its ear. A man with Shriekhorn in his Dredge deck means serious business.
  • Knight of Autumn in Humans. Will it ever be “just a big guy”? Mike is a little incredulous. Knight of Autumn does what Reclamation Sage did, and the “gain four” mode is just as valuable in certain matchups.
  • Arclight Phoenix: Simply the future of Modern.

Modern. Guilds of Ravnica. What are you waiting for?

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Golgari Runs the Tables

Golgari

We’re just a couple of weeks into the new Standard and there is a clear current king: Golgari.

What makes Golgari so good?

The Standard b-g deck is basically a stack of two-for-ones. Most of them play Llanowar Elves, but believe it or not, some simply don’t!

Many of the Elves-less versions play as many as twelve two and three casting cost Explore creatures, meaning they have a very high likelihood of hitting their early land drops. They may sacrifice Llanowar Evles — one of the only cards consistently dominated by Goblin Chainwhirler — for the security and consistency of drawing all two-for-ones.

Explore two-for-ones like Merfolk Branchwalker are outstanding blockers, even when they trade. The b-g actually wants to put creatures into the graveyard for cards like the Findbroker or Find // Finality.

Basically: This strategy combines consistent early game draws and hitting land drops with a consistent flow of card advantage. In the absence of a blisteringly fast or over-the-top threat deck, that is a heck of a combo for Standard.

Golgari in Context

Standard b-g is an outstanding anti-beatdown deck. Not only do its early game creatures block and trade well, but you can gain access to cards like Wildgrowth Walker.

Not only does Wildgrowth Walker completely dominate cards like Viashino Pyromancer, it is just big enough to contain Knights from History of Benalia and many other small creatures. Of course, a deck with twelve Explore guys is going to make this card look fantastic. Turn two Wildgrowth Walker, turn three Jadelight Ranger?

That is, “give my Walker +2/+2, gain six, draw two cards… and still play a 2/1 creature”? Heck of a combo. Series of combos, even.

Sorry Red Deck: Meet Golgari

So Golgari draws extra cards every turn… Or kills your creature with its creature… Or gains size and life simultaneously… Can other decks compete on card advantage?

What about our darling from last week, Experimental Frenzy?

The problem is that on top of everything else, Golgari can remove almost any kind of permanent!

Vivian Reid can shoot enchantments like Experimental Frenzy and keep kicking. Moreover, Assassin’s Trophy is great at shooting at a big enchantment. On the other hand, Assassin’s Trophy is not good against Golgari generally… All of its guys are two-for-ones! How much card advantage do you want to give the opponent? As flexible as Assassin’s Trophy can be, it’s not at its best against Golgari.

Michael and Patrick give you the lowdown on how to approach this format-defining deck, whether you want to beat it… Or join it.

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Doom Whisperer: The Critics Agree!

Doom Whisperer
Doom Whisperer is great, and is going to be great!

This Nightmare Demon has a solid body for its casting cost.

This creature easily passes Magic’s lowest bar. At 6/6 for 3BB, Doom Whisperer is far bigger for a five drop than many tournament (or at least Standard) Staples. For comparison, cross-archetype All-Star Glorybringer was only 4/4 and current Baneslayer Angel Lyra, Dawnbringer is 5/5. Doom Whisperer towers over most of its competitors… Or, rather, tramples over them.

Oh yeah, both flying and trample are kind of thrown in!

Doom Whisperer is a lockdown threat.

While its size and its evasion are both spot-on, neither is what really makes this card so interesting. Surveil 2 — with no attached mana requirement — is something special. The Whisperer can break an opponent in multiple ways. We think its most common use will be in mid-range control decks. In such decks, the Nightmare Demon can utilize Surveil to ensure drawing action, turn after turn. In some decks it will be able to load the graveyard with jump-start cards, or even trigger Narcomoeba and Crippling Chill. But the “mere” ability to keep a permission spell on top for three turns will be enough to win most races.

It can be played in multiple different strategies

There is no reason to damn Doom Whisperer to Mono-Black Control. I mean, Mono-Black Control is probably going to be a reasonable home… But so will Orzhov Control, Golgari, Sultai, and other color combinations. That is because a 6/6 flyer for five can slot right into many of those strategies. Creature decks sometimes need a huge finisher, Control decks need a way to win at all: This card can fit both those roles and almost everything between them.

This week’s podcast offers some Doom Whisperer consensus over last week’s… But also explores a card Mike thinks will make a big splash in Modern (which Patrick thinks is fringe playable, and maybe only by Reid Duke); a selection of small evasion creatures (you might want to buy back from the graveyard); and an exploration of Guilds Goblins. Check it out:

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Crackling Drake is Our Official Guilds of Ravnica Preview

Wizards of the Coast gave us this great, cool, preview card: Crackling Drake!

Crackling Drake

Crackling Drake is Not a Dragon 🙁

… That doesn’t mean that you can’t play it with Dragons. At UURR casting this card on turn four consistently is going to be a challenge. At least, you are going to have to build a specialized mana base for it.

But that’s okay!

Crackling Drake may not be a Dragon, but it can possibly play well with Dragons… One Dragon in particular.

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Both of these cards really like instants and sorceries. The four mana Drake gets more power from casting instants and sorceries, while the six mana Dragon draws extra cards.

Speaking of which…

Crackling Drake has lots of text

Two things to note:

  1. Crackling Drake draws a card when it enters the battlefield. THAT IS REALLY GOOD!
  2. The Drake also counts both the graveyard and exile. This is an important point for a couple of reasons… In powered formats, you can cast Demonic Consultation to do dozens of damage on the spot. In Standard, there is a huge advantage to playing jump-start cards. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Thanks again to Wizards for our great preview! You can listen to our podcast on this new card now:

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Get Ready for Assassin’s Trophy

Assassin's Trophy
Assassin’s Trophy

Assassin’s Trophy is in Rare Company

Assassin’s Trophy has a down-side: That is plain to see. It in fact has the same down-side as Staples like Path to Exile and Settle the Wreckage.

Mike notes how players had question marks around the white cards before they had all become so popular. This caused some players to underrate them, and might cause some players to underrate the Golgari instant.

The truth is, this card is beyond flexible. Patrick thinks it would see non-zero play at four mana. It’s not actually so far off of an Utter End.

Compare it to Vindicate: Once you get past the ugly down-side, Assassin’s Trophy is a full mana cheaper and an instant (versus Vindicate’s sorcery). While you can’t really get the Vindicate / Recoil play pattern of the old Esper Angels deck… We probably wouldn’t want to see that anyway.

Assassin’s Trophy Can Blow Up Lands

Compare it to Ghost Quarter: Mike once underrated Ghost Quarter because of the inherent lack of card advantage. The same issue is present here, and becomes pronounced if you ever point this at a land. But! What happens when you aim it at a nonbasic land? When you’re taking out an Urza’s Tower, do you care so much that they are getting a basic Forest back?

It gets better: The opponent can run out of basics. At some point, you can overwhelm the opponent with so much redundancy with Field of Ruin and other, similar, effects that the opponent will literally have no basics to search up. If you have Crucible of Worlds + Ghost Quarter (in Modern), you can even start hitting their basic lands!

Look for this card to be a four-of Staple in Standard and wider formats. It’s so good (and so cheap to start) Mike even thinks it’ll see play in Nullhide Ferox decks.

Nullhide Ferox

It’s so good, people will play it in the same 75 (if not 60) as a card that says you can’t cast noncreature spells.

Tons more Guilds of Ravnica, besides! Check it out:

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Don’t forget: Bonus episode tomorrow!

Arcbound Ravager and Hardened Scales

Arcbound Ravager
It turns out Arcbound Ravager and Hardened Scales go together like peanut butter and chocolate.

Arcbound Ravager is, and has always been, the Fairy Godmother

The Ravager, mightiest of Modular cards, has always been a cut above the competition. With the ability to defy card advantage and throw all your deck’s power onto one threat, this creature has wowed crowds and defined formats for over a decade.

The Ravager could always sacrifice an artifact that was about to die. In that way, it could mitigate the effects of cards like Searing Blood or Smash to Smithereens. More importantly, it could create size without using mana: This let the Beast take all kinds of explosive turns for years.

So with cards like Myr Enforcer and Somber Hoverguard all but forgotten, this Affinity two-drop has remained relevant.

But wait! There’s more!

Arcbound Ravager makes (and moves) +1/+1 counters… Hardened Scales loves +1/+1 counters

Hardened Scales may be the new boogeyman
Hardened Scales

What happens when every Worker enters the battlefield as a 2/2? How does Steel Overseer look when this enchantment is in play on turn one?

Affinity was always a good Modern deck, but with Hardened Scales, the archetype is doing something cool and legitimately new for the first time in years.

Consider for a moment what happens when you sacrifice an Arcbound Worker to an Arcbound Ravager with Hardened Scales in play…

  • The Worker dies, putting a +1/+1 counter on the Ravager.
  • But wait! Hardened Scales says to put two +1/+1 counters on instead.
  • The Ravager’s ability resolves, so we’re up to three +1/+1 counters already…
  • But then Hardened Scales checks again…

Pretty cool, huh?

Forget about cool, pretty powerful.

Hardened Scales Affinity may be the new hotness in Modern. Learn about it, and all the latest modern tech, in this week’s podcast:

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Rekindling Phoenix and a Red Potpourri

Rekindling Phoenix
Rekindling Phoenix

Rekindling Phoenix in Grixis Control?

Mitchell Tamblyn may take the deck tuning cake this week. Tamblyn added Rekindling Phoenix to Grixis! His glut of super powered fours went over the top with that 4/3 addition. With cards like Chandra, Torch of Defiance, Vraska’s Contempt, or of course Nicol Bolas, the Ravager; Mitchell was almost guaranteed to have a better four mana play than his opponent.

Patrick compares this choice to Mike’s famous tap-out Control deck, Jushi Blue. We can’t solve every problem in the world… But it is possible to make a better play, card-for-card and turn-for-turn than most enemies. This deck can obviously do that!

Imagine…

Who is going to match up with that lineup? Exactly.

Viashino Pyromancer
Viashino Pyromancer

Viashino Pyromancer is a Discounted Snapcaster Mage

“You don’t have to pay extra for the Shock!”

The Mono-Red Wizards deck seems like it’s here to stay. This deck is the real deal, and surprisingly nuanced for a deck full of one and two casting cost beaters.

Was Viashino Pyromancer the kind of card that got you all excited the first time you saw it? But it’s an awesome tool, in-archetype. Not only is it super cheap, but trading one for the usually outstanding Vraska’s Contempt must be soul-crusing for the opponent.

The Mono-Red Wizards deck typically plays land light… Maybe only 19 lands. When we say “nuanced” … Some of them play as many as two lands in the sideboard to get ahead!

Further, the deck can sideboard for a “durable card advantage engine” and completely outmaneuver the opponent. Mike tells a story about losing to a Wizards opponent who sided in Vance’s Blasting Cannons (like GP Top 8 competitor Bolun Zhang). He sided in all the cards that were good against fast and cheap creatures, and just found himself ground to death by burn spells and a card advantageous enchantment. Such a transformation is one of the key advantages of the archetype.

Give us a listen now!

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