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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Wild About Wildgrowth Walker

“Wildgrowth Walker is basically Tarmogoyf + Loxodon Hierarch”
-Mike

So this is Wildgrowth Walker:

Wildgrowth Walker

Wildgrowth Walker: Positioned Well

Try as we might… Try as we might with all our Time Walks and Planeswalkers, Goblin Chainwhirler decks remain near the top of the Standard tournament scene. And where there are aggressive Red Decks, some Magicians will want to solve the problem with a solid, on-time, blocker. You know: Like Wildgrowth Walker.

Patrick points out, that like every Omenspeaker that has come before, this Elemental is a 1/3 for two mana. And 1/3 creatures for two mana a great at blocking Red Aggro.

But that’s not all!

Wildgrowth Walker is Actually Huge Sometimes

While it can come down on turn two to hold off, say, an Earthshaker Khenra, this Elemental is actually a big game itself sometimes.

The reason this came up this week at all is that Alexander Gordon-Brown did so well with his Sultai Midrange deck at Grand Prix Brussels.

That deck plays four copies of Merfolk Branchwalker and four copies of Jadelight Ranger. With so much redundancy on Explore creatures, Wildgrowth Walker is a plausible fatty for only two mana. Further, it can gain a lot of life. The latter is of course great against Red Decks and the former is great against everybody. Besides which, either setting up card advantage or setting up more Explore guys can be awesome.

Imagine:

  • Turn two Wildgrowth Walker
  • Turn three Jadelight Ranger

It’s on!

Potentially drawing two extra cards aside, you’ve got a 3/5 Elemental, have just gained six life, and might have more gas in hand. Did we mention “it’s on”?

This Deck Has All the Aces. Okay, “most of” the Aces

While “Wild About Wildgrowth Walker” features all kinds of decks — including 1996 Necropotence references and a shout-out to Worth Wollpert’s 1997 Regional Championships win with Air Elemental — Alexander Gordon Brown’s deck alone has a ton of awesome cards.

Not just these Explore guys. Not just the Walker. Yes to four copies of THE Scarab God. Yes to four copies of Hostage Taker (and the Blossoming Defenses to protect them)…

But somehow not Vraska’s Contempt?

The deck remains Mike’s favorite of the week by far. Plus our takes on how to improve it, and some of the other top cards and decks of the format!

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Palace Jailer Wins the Pro Tour!

Palace Jailer
Palace Jailer made two of the Top 4 Legacy decks at the Pro Tour… including the winning Death & Taxes!

Death & Taxes is a “High Tier One” Archetype in Legacy… Thanks to Palace Jailer

New addition Palace Jailer helps to catapult this strategy to a legitimately defining deck in Legacy.

Death & Taxes has performed for years… But largely as a metagame deck. For example, the presence of main-deck Karakas has helped the deck to foil Sneak and Show. Sneak and Show’s key creatures — Griselbrand and Emrakul, the Aeons Torn — are perfect targets for the Legendary Land.

But with Palace Jailer and other toys from Conspiracy: Take the Crown, the power level and flexibility of this already-viable deck has increased substantially.

Palace Jailer doesn’t quite work like Fiend Hunter

Fiend HUnter
Fiend Hunter

“Um… How do I become the monarch?”

“Well… Did you play with any cards that make you the monarch?”

Patrick notes that the Jailer offers exactly the kind of edge Mike loves. While Palace Jailer looks like another take on the Fiend Hunter mechanic, it actually relies on a unique Conspiracy: Take the Crown mechanic. Many players just won’t read the card and will snap Lightning Bolt the Jailer hoping to get their creature back… not realizing that they aren’t the monarch.

That makes Palace Jailer essentially a white Nekrataal that exiles creatures with no targeting restrictions. Not only can this card smash almost any creature in a 187 — permanently — it can work well with Flickerwisp and other old standbys of the Death & Taxes archetype.

Casual Sets contribute heavily to Death & Taxes

Containment Priest
Containment Priest

From Commander 2014
This card is an absolute monster against Sneak Attack, Show and Tell, or reanimation strategies.

Council's Judgment
Council’s Judgment

From Magic: The Gathering – Conspiracy
Council’s Judgment is like a Vindicate or Maelstrom Pulse that does extra damage against folks who don’t read the card. Here’s a hint: When the opponent casts this, agree with them. Otherwise, you could lose more permanents!

Recruiter of the Guard
Recruiter of the Guard

From Conspiracy: Take the Crown
This tutor helps search up cards like today’s Palace Jailer. Simply awesome in a deck with cards like Stoneforge Mystic, Containment Priest, and Aether Vial. Recruiter of the Guard can get you the right tool for the right matchup at the right time.

There was lots more to the Pro Tour than Death & Taxes and Palace Jailer. Check all the tech out here:

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Everything You Can Do With a Graveyard Marshal

Graveyard Marshal
Graveyard Marshal

  • Mana Cost: BB
  • Converted Mana Cost: 2
  • Types: Creature — Zombie Soldier
  • Card Text: 2B, Exile a creature card from your graveyard: Create a tapped 2/2 black Zombie creature token.
  • Flavor Text: “Rise and shine, my dears. We have work to do.” —Isareth the Awakener
  • P/T: 3 / 2
  • Expansion: Core Set 2019 (Rare) Core Set 2019
  • Rarity: Rare
  • Card Number: 99
  • Artist: Mark Behm

Graveyard Marshal is Helping to Make Zombies Happen

The SCG Classic in Indianapolis this past weekend featured not one but two Zombies decks in the Top 8!

One of them, played by Joshua Satterfield, was the winner.

Graveyard Marshal is one of the most important new cards in this strategy. In fact, the two drop from Dominaria does a ton of things that the deck wants. The first and most obvious is that Graveyard Marshal is an aggressive three-power creature for only two mana.

I mean… So is Scrapheap Scrounger.

But that’s not all. Not only can Graveyard Marshal actually block, but it’s a Zombie!

So you can go…

  1. B Diregraf Ghoul
  2. BB Graveyard Marshal
  3. BB1 Death Baron!

Boom!

You can truck in for a massive seven damage on turn three this way. Speaking of blocking (you know, the thing Scrapheap Scrounger doesn’t do well), any Zombies will trade up like champions with Death Baron buffing them.

Graveyard Marshal Can Frustrate The Scarab God

Everyone knows how powerful The Scarab God can be. It is a massive card advantage engine that can go completely over the top of foolish midrange decks with good creatures.

You know who can spit in the eye of The Scarab God and its four mana reanimation ability? Graveyard Marshal. The opponent has to leave up 2BU to try to make a 4/4 Zombie. The Marshal can hang back with an economical 2B to pre-empt The Scarab God’s attempt. At some point you’ll just run out of creatures. Which is fine (because you’re not getting annihilated by The Scarab God).

Putting it All Together with Graveyard Marshal

Zombies just might be the dark horse strategy to bust open this weekend’s Pro Tour.

With Diregraf Ghoul and Dread Wanderer at the B, it has an eight-pack of two power creatures for one.

There is an equal number of three power creatures for two.

It’s not just that Zombies plays eight Lords on three… It has Liliana’s Mastery too! This strategy has an almost unending number of ways to generate advantages and buff already aggressive creatures.

The big differentiation between this deck and StOmPy though is the creature elimination. Zombies has a ton of green’s aggression, but has great removal including Vraska’s Contempt (one of the best cards in the format overall).

Zombies is just the beginning of this week’s exciting podcast…

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Breaking Thunderbreak Regent in Modern

Thunderbreak Regent
Thunderbreak Regent is a key card in the new Skred Dragons deck

Thunderbreak Regent won the Classic in Skred Dragons

A brand new archetype has hit Modern! Though we’ve seen other “Skred Red” decks in the past, the won played by Ozzy Kelly last week broke quite a bit of new ground.

Yes, it plays Skred and Snow-Covered Mountain.

The new / important part is the addition of Sarkhan, Fireblood.

While there have been predecessors packing five drop Dragons like Stormbreath Dragon or Thundermaw Hellkite, Ozzy’s plays three different kinds, including last summers hit, Glorybringer. Sarkhan, Fireblood makes the big Dragons much faster.

Predictably, this was Mike’s favorite deck of the weekend. “There is nothing about that name I didn’t like,” says of the onetime Resident Genius.

Would Nicol Bolas, the Ravager Improve Skred Dragons?

Just as predictably, Patrick wonders if this straight red deck shouldn’t just be Grixis… Because of course he does.

Wouldn’t Nicol Bolas, the Ravager be a welcome addition to any Dragons-centric strategy?

He does have a good point. But of course you can’t add Nicol Bolas and stay mono-red. The question becomes why would you want to be mono-red?

The incentives are Skred (need lots of Snow-Covered Mountains) and Blood Moon. How often would you prefer Skred on one mana to, say, Fatal Push? Fatal Push is better a lot of the time, and in particular against Death’s Shadow. Death’s Shadow, of course, made a mini-comeback this past weekend.

Patrick does concede that you might just want to be a Blood Moon deck.

The Best of the Rest…

Sarkhan, Fireblood fronting a new archetype — that won the tournament, mind you — is the biggest news RE: M19 in Modern… But it’s not the only new card from Dominaria or M19 in Modern.

Elvish Clancaller made a predictable debut in an Elves Overrun deck. A Crusade with upside, Elvish Clancaller is in particular synergistic with Collected Company for instant-speed buffs.

Lyra Dawnbringer made numerous appearances in U/W or Jeskai Control decks… Sometimes with, sometimes in lieu of, Baneslayer Angel. What is interesting is that Baneslayer Angel is generally better than Lyra Dawnbringer (especially if Dragons are going to be a thing)… But the first Lyra Dawnbringer is better than the second Baneslayer Angel. Rawr.

All your old favorites plus a brand new As Foretold deck are all one click away…

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Nicol Bolas, the Ravager Rules the Skies

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
The world belongs to Nicol Bolas, the Ravager. We just live in it.

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager didn’t quite win

We’ll talk a bunch about Nicol Bolas, both here and on the podcast… But it’s important to note that despite three appearances in the Top 8 (three-Bolas each time), Grixis finished second.

The top performing deck of the tournament was actually StOmPy! Already one of the strong archetypes last format, StOmPy added a tight little two-drop that is appearing as a four-of in almost every list:

Thorn Lieutenant
Thorn Lieutenant

Thorn Lieutenant is actually easier to cast than Elvish Warrior… But retains its 2/3 body. On top of that are a pair of powerful abilities. Imagine how cool the token-making ability might be with Blossoming Defense!

Thorn Lieutenant’s pump ability is deceptively relevant. Do you play it every game? No. Do you want to be in a position to use it in most games? Still probably not. But you’ll be happy it’s there sometimes! StOmPy gets tangled in a surprising number of games where its mana is plentiful but its drops are best suited for early game.

Great that Thorn Lieutenant can essentially suit himself up!

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager out-stripped other control cards

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager appeared in three decks at the recent Classic. All three decks played three copies. This put Bolas at a higher level of play, generally, than incumbent control finishers Torrential Gearhulk and The Scarab God.

For example, Todd Stevens placed fifth with:

  • 3 Nicol Bolas, the Ravager
  • 2 Torrential Gearhulk
  • 2 The Scarab God

There was a decent amount of variation among these decks, with no consensus around Arguel’s Blood Fast or Search for Azcanta. A possible sign of a sea change in the format? Four main-deck copies of Glint-Sleeve Siphoner in Jonathan Job’s second-place list. Who’s afraid of Goblin Chainwhirler?

Nicol Bolas, the Ravager is four-of sometimes, too!

Mike’s favorite Bolas build was Trevor Mensinger’s 11th place deck.

Unlike the Top 8 decks, Trevor played a Dragon-centric Red Deck. He not only ran four copies of Nicol Bolas, but four Glorybringers and a pair of Demanding Dragon! Much of the rest of Trevor’s deck were typical Red Deck cards like Scrapheap Scrounger, Pia Nalaar, and Unlicensed Disintegration. The red-centered deck employed Sarkhan, Fireblood to great effect. Not only did the new planeswalker help deploy Dragons, but could discard Spit Flame for more and more card advantage!

For those few listeners who are interested in non-Dragon-centric topics, this podcast discusses when you should play Lyra Dawnbringer, Viashino Pyromancer, and Sifter Wurm. Check it out!

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Giganotosaurus or Not to Giganotosaurus

Giganotosaurus

Your Puny Red Men Are No Match for Giganotosaurus

I mean, give Mike a break.

Mike went 1-3 at his first event… Where he had Spit Flame and a Dragon.

Then, to redeem himself, he went 2-2 in the one where he had a Banefire.

His little red creatures were no match for Giganotosaurus. Patrick concedes that a man might be scarred by such an experience. I mean… GGGGG!

But Mike insists that he wants to play it in Standard.

Giganotosaurus is Not as Good as Verdurous Gearhulk

Patrick points out that Verdurous Gearhulk is still legal in Standard.

“It doesn’t eat an Abrade.”

“It doesn’t leave a bunch of +1/+1 counters everywhere, either.”

Is Mike insane?

The Payoff of Giganotosaurus

Mike insists that he wants to try Giganotosaurus. It can sit right on the turn-three curve! I mean…

  1. T-1 Llanowar Elves
  2. T-2 two Elvish Rejuvenator
  3. T-3 three GGGGG!

Yeah? Yeah?

Mike likes Elvish Rejuvenator because, not slaved to basic lands, it can flip over a Desert on turn two or three. This not only sets up a three-to-five Ramp; it can get the first Desert you need for Hour of Promise.

Patrick is still unconvinced.

The main problem isn’t that a 10/10 for five mana — in Sealed Deck or no — isn’t formidable. The problem is that you really have to warp your mana around the ability to produce five green mana on demand.

But here’s the secret:

We already had Thrashing Brontodon. Now there’s Runic Armasaur. Ghalta, Primal Hunger is cake to cast when you have so many big bodies.

The secret is that at a critical number of Dinosaurs, you get to legitimately play Thunderherd Migration.

Thunderherd Migration

Thunderherd Migration is the payoff!

Most of the time we think about what we’re Ramping into as the payoff. But this is a case where we get to play one of the most powerful cards in the format… That no one else gets to play.

So, what do you think? GG with the GGGGG?

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