So Much Ravnica Allegiance Standard

Pteramander Adapts to Allegiance Standard

Pteramander

Alexander Hayne, the great Canadian Pro Tour Champion, put out a new Mono-Blue deck featuring Pteramander this week. Packing only 19 Islands, Hayne’s deck relies on a ton of super cheap threats, including 11 one casting cost evasion creatures.

Alongside Pteramander, Mist-Cloaked Herald and Siren Stormtamber make for many creatures to catalyze Chart a Course or Curious Obsession on turn two.

Overall, this strategy can keep the opponent on their toes; it’s got just enough permission to hold a lead — not indefinitely, but maybe long enough to get Tempest Djinn across the Red Zone once or twice…

Light Up the Stage Brings Back Experimental Frenzy

Light Up the Stage

After an off week, Mono-Red players suddenly remembered they are allowed to run Experimental Frenzy!

Part of the Red Deck’s bounce back came from the power of Light Up the Stage. This Ravnica Allegiance sorcery found homes immediately, but often at the cost of the more expensive Frenzy. Why? Light Up the Stage kind of does the same thing as Experimental Frenzy (draws cards). Turns out it doesn’t have to be either / or.

Casting Light Up the Stage with Experimental Frenzy in play gives you the option of casting an instant on top of your library before Light Up the Stage resolves.

This creates a bit of a tension in Mono-Red Land. Do you maximize your instants? That would mean playing Wizard’s Lightning… Possibly over Skewer the Critics. But is Skewer — Light Up the Stage’s Spectacle buddy — just too good not to play?

How about Fanatical Firebrand? Many mages have cited the little Pirate as the weakest card in Mono-Red. Maybe… But it’s also the best setup man for Spectacles in the deck. There is no easy cut for the format’s Red Deck.

Allegiance Standard Gives Hostage Taker a New Mission

Hostage Taker

Hostage Taker seems amazing in the format right now!”
-Patrick

Why?

Two words: Hydroid Krasis.

Yeah? Not only can you follow up by casting their Hydroid Krasis for a bunch if your Hostage Taker lives, even if it doesn’t, the opponent will get back a 0/0 Krasis.

Not bad.

Tons more Standard in this week’s podcast!

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Breaking Hydroid Krasis

Hydroid KrasisHydroid Krasis is the top Mythic Rare from Ravnica Allegiance

How Do I Make a Hydroid Krasis Deck?

The top deck from the first week of Ravnica Allegiance Standard was Sultai Midrange. The inheritor of the Golgari decks, Sultai Midrange uses Merfolk Branchwalker and Jadelight Ranger to turn creatures into extra cards. At the top end, instead of just playing another big Jadelight Ranger, Sultai (over Golgari) tops up on Hydroid Krasis: It’s bigger, it draws tons and tons of cards (instead of just one), and it gives you something to do with all that Explore land!

Hydroid Krasis is a powerful finisher in a Wilderness Reclamation deck. A blue mage can tap out for it main phase without fear: Draw some cards! Gain some life! Wildnerness Reclamation will untap your lands and you can play defensively on the opponents turn.

The hip new Gates builds are also playing the Jellyfish Hydra Beast. Because accelerators like Circuitous Route can give you the materiel to make X big… It’s just a big threat in Gates. The Krasis can compliment your Angels, or draw you into your relatively limited sweepers. Or kill a mage.

Hydroid Krasis has “cast” triggers

While it is effectively not-so-different from the 187 creatures of the Golgari deck, the Krasis differs meaningfully against blue opponents. Jadelight Ranger only Explores when the Jadelight Ranger actually resolves. Hydroid Krasis, on balance, draws cards and gains life when you cast the creature, not only if you resolve it.

This rarely matters if the opponent isn’t playing permission. But you’ll appreciate this nuance in the cases that he is!

Memorial to Folly is great with Hydroid Krasis

One of the long-game uses of Memorial to Folly is to re-buy this creature. In the older Golgari decks, you might draw the spell-like Memorial thanks to Jadelight Ranger… But late in the game you were probably also just re-buying the Jadelight Ranger.

The Krasis gives you the option to recover and play a much more powerful finisher. Long game flooded? Tap a ton of mana! Gain a ton of life! Use your creature slot to hit an extra land!

This week’s podcast also features the early struggles of Mono-Red, a cool new Bant Flash build, color conflicts in Grixis, and much more. Check it out!

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Skewer the Critics (and other spectacular Spectacles)

Skewer the Critics
Get ready to Skewer the Critics

Krark-Clan Ironworks… We Hardly Knew Ya!

Or, we’ve known you for seventeen years. Either or.

The King is Dead! Long live Ravnica Allegiance.

Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage Are Already Making Waves in Standard

Skewer the Critics is like “Rift Bolt 2K19” according to Mike. Along with Light Up the Stage (aka “Red draw-two”), these Spectacles are driving success for initial builds of Mono-Red.

Patrick and Michael agree that the initial Mono-Red decks in Standard are going to be balls to the wall aggressive. This is a move away from the Arch of Orazca / Treasure Map Red Decks; or even the Experimental Frenzy builds that have been such important pillars of Standard for the last few months. This is because they believe in the importance of racing Wilderness Reclamation decks. If you let one of these upcoming Rampers get going, no midrange deck will be able to keep pace.

Skewer the Critics and Light Up the Stage in Modern

Michael argues that these same Spectacle cards will be outstanding in Modern. Skewer the Critics does basically the same thing as every non-creature card in a Modern Red Deck… And it does so for only one mana, assuming Spectacle. Mike’s thinking is that moving down casting costs is the most important thing a Red Deck can be doing right now; plus, the ability to cut a land lets you increase spell and threat density.

WATCH THIS SPACE for a Modern recap (assuming Mike kicks butt and takes names this weekend in New Jersey).

Make Mine Rakdos: The Black Spectacles

  • Drill Bit – Patrick points out how this can pay off a player for running aggressive one drops. Mike sees it as a supplement to Duress (probably out of the sideboard) but is a little skeptical of the Spectacle.
  • Spawn of Mayhem – Awesome in part because it so easily enables future Spectacles.

… Plus a Top-Five card that is sure to make your Wilderness Reclamation even more broken. All in:

“Skewer the Critics (and more spectacular Spectacles)”

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Wild About Wilderness Reclamation

Wilderness Reclamation
“[Wilderness Reclamation] is not an okay card.” -Patrick

Wilderness Reclamation “doesn’t seem close”

The task seems to be figuring out cards that are good with Wilderness Reclamation. The card looks to be a slam dunk. We’ll walk through some basics on this card, then get to some of the historical comparisons.

Let’s start with Growth Spiral. Growth Spiral allows you to play Wilderness Reclamation on turn three. That’s great by itself.

You can’t normally just tap out for a four mana do-nothing and expect to live through the next few turns, but Wilderness Reclamation will untap your lands on your own end step. Depending on your other colors, you will be able to defend yourself with anything from Fog variants to Settle the Wreckage for the turn.

Turn five (or turn four with Growth Spiral) starts getting really interesting.

You can open up by playing Teferi, Hero of Dominaria. You do the whole “draw a card” thing with Teferi, then move to your end step. Teferi will untap two lands. Wilderness Reclamation will tap all five. Put one effect on the stack, tap Teferi’s bounty in response, and you’ll have access to seven.

You know: For Nexus of Fate.

“Let me get this right,” says the babe in the woods. “It’s turn four and I have both this and Teferi in play… Plus I’ve just hit a recurring Time Walk?”

“Yes,” replies the Hand of Fate.

“How quickly can I sign up for your Bant Newsletter?”

You don’t even have to play Teferi, or white at all. This card works just fine and dandy with Nexus of Fate with or without Teferi, and untapping all your lands every turn is hyper synergistic with Search for Azcanta.

How Might We Properly Gauge Wilderness Reclamation?

One of the things that’s great about this card is that, in addition to being able to spitball a cool two-three-four sequence with Teferis and Time Walks… We can just compare it to things we know have already performed.

Compare it to Thran Dynamo.

Thran Dynamo cost four mana and gave you three back immediately. Presuming your mana is all coming from lands, Wilderness Reclamation is generally — and immediately — just better. Rather than colorless mana, you get colored mana back. Rather than just three, you get four (or more). Even better, you get more and more mana over time assuming you hit your land drops.

Ditto on Gilded Lotus. Rather than paying five up front, you only have to pay four. Again, Wilderness Reclamation will generally give you more mana than the celebrated Lotus; and pay you more and more mana over time.

The Best of the Rest

  • Theater of Horrors – Looking for an alternate engine? As long as you’re aggressive, this card is generally better than Phyrexian Arena
  • Basilica Bell-Haunt – Mike comes completely around on this card. Patrick has him comparing it to Loxodon Hierarch and Siege Rhino. Synergies with The Eldest Reborn push the Bell-Haunt over the finish line.
  • Shimmer of Possibility – Impulse at sorcery speed… Not great but good at finding Wilderness Reclamation!
  • Pteramander – Solid deal for one mana.

Lots more in the podcast proper. Give it a listen!

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The Beginning and End of Angel of Grace

Angel of Grace
Angel of Grace is the Beginning… But Will Often be THE END

Angel of Grace is card #1 for Ravnica Allegiance; so… The Beginning. But it will often be the end (of the game). This Angel is an extremely powerful threat creature. Let’s check out how:

Angel of Grace has both Flash and Flying

A 5/4 flyer with flash for 3WW is no joke. With no other abilities, it would still be a consideration to play. Having flash gives this creature some important tactical advantages. Here are some examples:

  • You can double up big threats against a permission deck. Test spell them with Angel of Grace; waltz it into an Essence Scatter, but then resolve your Lyra Dawnbringer the next turn.
  • Take advantage of your opponent’s Teferi window: A common play pattern will be to tap out for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria, and then draw a card. U/W players will have at least two open lands for your next turn. Usually this will mean some amount of defense, especially if they just drew Essence Scatter with their Teferi. But with this flashy Angel, you can resolve a big 5/4 before their two lands untap. Even better, you’ll be able to attack with it, not just resolve it!
  • In general, any “threat” deck can put pressure on the opponent — whether it’s with Knights, tokens, or whatever — forcing them to cast Cleansing Nova. With Angel of Grace, you just have an instant speed window to resolve a big beater, to keep on the pressure the next turn, while the opponent is tapped out for their sweeper.

Did you say “Angel’s Grace”?

“When Angel of Grace enters the battlefield, until end of turn, damage that would reduce your life total to less than 1 reduces it to 1 instead.”

This card is obviously a little punny.

It doesn’t have Split Second (or some of the other clauses of the original instant) but this middle ability will certainly come up. It can undo a lethal attack, many combo kills, etc.

Oh, and the opponent still has to deal with your 5/4.

4WW, Exile Angel of Grace from your graveyard: Your life total becomes 10.

Like we said, we’d consider Angel of Grace without these last two abilities. This one is in particular free. You can dump the Angel for free with Search for Azcanta, or get some free value from Explore guys like Jadelight Ranger or Merfolk Branchwalker.

Regardless of how you get your Angel into the graveyard, this last clause can make your opponent miserable. You can activate the ability at instant speed. It’s not a spell so your opponent can’t Negate it. On top of all that… The card itself is on the bonus; you’re not using a card in hand or creature in play to adjust your life total.

Least important block of text? Maybe. But it’s still there, and will contribute to the success that this card can help contribute, from tournament number one.

Check out even more Ravnica Allegiance discussion here:

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Exclusive Preview: Zhur-Taa Goblin

Zhur-Taa Goblin
Zhur-Taa Goblin is kind of a Rip-Clan Crasher // Watchwolf split card.

Zhur-Taa Goblin is strictly superior to Rip-Clan Crasher

Rip-Clan Crasher
Rip-Clan Crasher

Rip-Clan Crasher was never a super successful Constructed card. It was fringe in Alara Block Constructed. Playable, sure; but fringe. However Rip-Clan Crasher shared not only a Block, but a color combination, with Bloodbraid Elf.

While few players would choose Rip-Clan Crasher, when you play Zhur-Taa Goblin… You kind of get the option for a Rip-Clan Crasher for free. Need a hasty creature to deal the last two points of damage? Smell the stink of a Lava Coil on your opponent and want to get some damage in before that sorcery blazes up your cardboard? Staring down a Teferi, Hero of Dominaria that’s about to hit his limit break? Zhur-Taa Goblin in Rip-Clan Crasher mode will serve you well in its smaller, faster, form. On the other hand…

It’s ALSO generally better than Watchwolf

Watchwolf
Watchwolf

Watchwolf was a tournament Staple in its [original Ravnica: City of Guilds] era.

Likely, Watchwolf would be good enough to play today, as well!

The “big” version of Zhur-Taa Goblin isn’t a direct translation to Watchwolf (Selesnya mana versus Gruul, straight 3/3 versus 2/2 with a +1/+1 counter)… But it’s not only close, the comparisons tend to favor the Gruul version. For one thing, red tends to get smaller creatures than white, or at least have to work a little harder for them. Consider Watchwolf’s Gruul contemporary, Scab-Clan Mauler:

Scab-Clan Mauler
Scab-Clan Mauler

The Gruul Staple had to bruise the opponent some for its 3/3, instead of living the Hill Giant life on easy mode like Watchwolf. That Zhur-Taa Goblin has a 3/3 mode “for free” is a huge plus for the card. But it’s not just a 3/3… It’s a 2/2 with a +1/+1 counter. That’s generally better than a straight 3/3 due to additional synergies. We haven’t seen all the available cards from Ravnica Allegiance, but it’s not out of the question that some +1/+1 synergy along the lines of Hardened Scales might not, um, tip the scales in favor of this card.

We guess the 3/3 mode will be more popular, but there are many cases where you’ll want to sneak in damage quickly, finish off a Planeswalker, or avoid sorcery speed removal. The hasty mode is great for all that.

As such, we expect Zhur-Taa Goblin to be playable in Standard, and have some ideas for Goblin deck mana bases, and brew up some potential homes for hasty Rioters. Check all that out in this bonus episode!

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Dovin, Grand Arbiter Headlines More Ravnica Allegiance

Dovin, Grand Arbiter
Dovin, Grand Arbiter

[+1]: Until end of turn, whenever a creature you control deals combat damage to a player, put a loyalty counter on Dovin, Grand Arbiter.

Imagine you open on any one mana creature; or even a creature token of some sort… Let’s say Legion’s Landing.

And then, imagine we make two guys on turn two… In other formats there are more attractive white options; but because we’re just pretending right now, let’s say you get two bodies online with Goblin Instigator

Now on turn three, you play Dovin and go [+1]. Dovin’s base loyalty is three. When you plus, it goes to four. Now you attack with all three guys. For one thing, yes, your Legion’s Landing will flip. But what about your Planeswalker?

That’s right friend: 4 becomes 7, and out of nowhere, Dovin is already ready for Ultimate!

[-1]: Create a 1/1 colorless Thopter artifact creature token with flying. You gain 1 life.

While less synergistic than abilities one and three, this might be Dovin’s most important.

You get a body. That means that if you didn’t have another one already, this will give you a catalyst for that lethal [+1]. It’s also a blocker. One measure of a Planeswalker is just how well it defends itself. Well, now this one can defend itself for at least a turn or so.

The Thopters are artifacts, and therefore friendly with Karn. Likely there is a proactive control deck for Standard that will want both these Planeswalkers.

On the simpler side, you can lead up with an AJani’s Pridemate. Now the [-1] will add two power, not one. One 1/1 flyer and one +1/+1 counter.

[-7]: Look at the top ten cards of your library. Put three of them into your hand and the rest on the bottom of your library in a random order.

Okay, back to seven. How easy was that?

The cool thing about this card is not just that it’s so easy to get to seven, but that seven doesn’t come only once. Imagine we had a more realistic mana situation and ran an Ajani’s Pridemate on turn two. You wouldn’t be able to go Ultimate on turn three. That’s okay, though. Going to 6 loyalty isn’t the worst; it implies you’ll go over seven next turn. That means getting to use this Ultimate more than once.

Dovin’s [-7] seems great but isn’t really the kind of Ultimate that wins the game immediately. Good thing it lines up for multiple uses!

Dovin might be first this week, but he’s not alone! Check out this week’s podcast to hear about more Planeswalkers, more gold cards, and more quick plays, generally; all from Ravnica Allegiance.

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Detection Tower Makes the Difference

Detection Tower
Detection Tower was a key addition to Golgari in last week’s Grand Prix

What Does Detection Tower Do?

This card does two things. One of them is simply to tap for a colorless mana. It takes up a land slot (more on this later) rather than a spell slot. As long as you can afford a slightly greedier mana base, adding Detection Tower is kind of free.

But more than that, Detection Tower can steal Hexproof from “opponents and creatures your opponents control”. The Standard format has simply gone so far in a particular direction (or set of directions) that ridding yourself the horrors of Hexproof becomes very attractive.

Most notably:

  • Carnage Tyrant – Most opposing Golgari decks will play 2-3 Carnage Tyrants. This giant dinosaur will kill you if left unanswered. It lives through Find // Finality, which clears the path. BUT! If you cause Carnage Tyrant to lose Hexproof, it becomes a six casting cost creature that did not generate card advantage.
  • Niv-Mizzet, Parun – The Adrian Sullivan builds incorporating Dive Down changes the Izzet-Golgari matchup. While Golgari still has Vivien Reid, The Eldest Reborn, and Ravenous Chupacabra for cards that can kill Niv-Mizzet without triggering it. Golgari retains those tools… But Dive Down changes, dramatically, what having those cards means.

Can Jeskai Play Detection Tower?

Golgari has natural synergy with Detection Tower. With Merfolk Branchwalker, Jadelight Ranger, and potentially Seekers Squire as its Explore card advantage guys, Golgari’s draw engine is especially suited to finding a specialty land (or two).

The opposite is, unfortunately, true for Jeskai. Rather that having a natural synergy with its key creatures… Because both Cracking Drake and Niv-Mizzet, Parun require all blue and red mana, Detection Tower can’t help cast any of them.

Michael and Patrick spitball how to incorporate this land despite the challenging Jeskai mana base.

Find out how in this week’s podcast!

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How to Kill a Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant
Carnage Tyrant is one of the most important threats in Standard

Carnage Tyrant is an important card, a pillar of the entire Standard metagame. When this format debuted, the big Dinosaur was largely a mirror threat, a long-term answer to an opposing Golgari deck. You would land it, play Find // Finality to clear any non-Dinosaur creatures from the battlefield, finish the game with Carnage Tyrant.

But today, a renaissance of Carnage Tyrant is largely driven by the success of Jeskai. You see, Carnage Tyrant is as much as a three-of (alongside three copies of Vivien Reid) in some versions. Reid is there to kill Niv-Mizzet, Parun without triggering it; the Tyrant is for the opponent’s face.

The Jeskai Trio Can Kill Carnage Tyrant

Carnage Tyrant is one of the best cards against Jeskai! The irony is… Jeskai has several cards that can deal with it. Cleansing Nova and Settle the Wreckage are both efficient answers to multiple creatures (depending on what they’re doing). But the big weapon is Star of Extinction! The Star can deal 20 damage to any number of theoretically hexproof creatures, and take all the Planeswalkers with both of them!

The Eldest Reborn Can Be Great Against Carnage Tyrant

The Eldest Reborn can theoretically help against Carnage Tyrant. If you’re a black deck of some type, you will have to take care of all its friends first. Cards like Ritual of Soot can help with that; then The Eldest Reborn can show hexproof where it’s at.

Subtly, if you’re a discard deck with Disinformation Campaign or Thought Erasure, The Eldest Reborn — even if it’s not hitting Carnage Tyrant on turn five — can nab one from the bin [even] later in the game.

Unmoored Ego Can Hangle a Carnage Tyrant (or four)

And if you really, really, need to take care of a 7/6 Dinosaur that you can’t counter, and you can’t target later… You might want to consider Unmoored Ego. Largely a Grixis card due to its color constraints, Unmoored Ego may offer some defense to other hard-to-answer cards, like Banefire.

This week on the Top Level Podcast, we discuss these details and many more. The MOCS was full effect, so there is further discussion of Boros Weenie, tons of Jeskai, and many other looks at Control as well as this Golgari-centric threat talk. Give it a listen:

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Niv-Mizzet, Parun in Jeskai Control

Niv-Mizzet, Parun
Niv-Mizzet, Parun

Playing Four Copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun changes just about everything

Adrian Sullivan, one of the true godfathers of Magic strategy, took down Grand Prix Milwaukee last weekend. And in true Adrian style, he did so with a unique deck… This time, a “Jeskai Control” with four copies of Niv-Mizzet, Parun.

Playing four copies of that big threat (when most Jeskai play as few as zero main deck) changes the deck and its matchups at a fundamental level. Here are some of the meaningful ways how…

Dive Down becomes a plausible Magic: The Gathering card – Adrian played only seven creatures! Yet, two copies of Dive Down make sense… Relative to just a couple more Ionizes. Dive Down simply protects Niv-Mizzet when you’re on seven or more mana. You’re getting paid on multiple fronts, then hopefully untap with Niv-Mizzet in play.

Adrian’s deck plays a truly elegant mana base – Sullivan actually went down on lands relative to some other Jeskai decks… But it made more sense. There is not a single basic Plains. Why? Plains doesn’t cast Niv-Mizzet. Adrian still needed white for Teferi, Hero of Dominaria or the odd Settle the Wreckage, but had the discipline to bias his mana base in favor of his unique creature decision.

Other Jeskai Decks quake in fear of main-deck Niv-Mizzet – Most of Adrian’s cards actually line up worse, card-for-card against other Jeskai decks. He can plausibly lose a lot of one-for-one battles. Unfortunately for the opponent, Adrian could win only one fight (say, over Niv-Mizzet, who can’t be countered) and with it, the game.

Adrian chose Treasure Map over Azor’s Gateway

We recently saw Elis Kassis play Azor’s Gateway to go alongside Expansion // Explosion and Banefire.

Adrian did something similar… He just played Treasure Map in that four-of slot. Treasure Map is less powerful for casting x-spells than Azor’s Gateway, but much more reliable. For Azor’s Gateway, you need to go to the well five times; not only that, but you have to hit five times. Conversely, Treasure Map will flip with three activations, every time.

The potential card advantage of Treasure Map lets it take up the Chemister’s Insight slot, but going much faster.

Big congrats to Adrian and his Jeskai deck.

Michael and Patrick take a nice long look at that deck, but also hit on the other main archetypes in Standard, including innovations for Golgari, Grixis, and Selesnya Tokens!

Check it all out now:

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