How Cavalier of Thorns Makes Sultai Escape

Cavalier of Thorns… Is There Anything it Can’t Do?

If qualifying Mike for the Players Tour wasn’t enough…

As with last week’s qualifying events, Cavalier of Thorns really stepped up to help Mark Jacobson win the first MagicFest Online Weekly Championship!

In Sultai Escape, Cavalier of Thorns both highlights the deck’s strengths… And helps to shore up its weaknesses.

Cavalier of Thorns as Engine

The Elemental Knight will put four (and in rare cases five) cards into your graveyard, directly from your library when it enters the battlefield. One of those four cards might be…

Polukranos, Unchained

… or better yet…

Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath

Putting one of those cards directly into the graveyard is like drawing an extra card. The Escape mechanic allows you to play either Polukranos or Uro out of the graveyard; and in Uro’s case it’s even better than drawing the card normally.

This is on top of (probably) getting an extra land; and on top of the expected re-buy later on in the game.

If you “whiff” on either Escape creature; rest assured that the four cards you’re putting directly into the graveyard can help you to pay for Escape some time in the future. So Cavalier of Thorns is always doing something nice for your development.

Cavalier of Thorns in Context

Mike in particular has always been a Bant > Sultai guy.

Both decks have similar advantages… Growth Spiral to get out of the gate; Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath as the persistent powerhouse; Hydroid Krasis to take huge advantage of all that extra mana.

Teferi, Time Raveler and Narset, Parter of Veils are two of the strongest Planeswalkers in Standard; both are game-altering and easy on the mana… At least one is a four-of in Bant while neither sees much (if any) play in Sultai. But that’s not the main reason for the aforementioned Bant bias. It’s really just about this creature:

Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is difficult to counter for Sultai, and thanks to its floating Hexproof ability… Notoriously difficult to remove. It isn’t just that Bant had Dream Trawler and Sultai didn’t… It’s so tough for Sultai to deal with one.

Well… That was before the days of Cavalier of Thorns.

Today, the six toughness Elemental Knight WITH REACH can guard a Sultai mage’s life total against Dream Trawler; and in the case that the Dream Trawler accumulates sufficient power to trade… Cavalier of Thorns can redeploy one of Sultai Escape’s other mighty threats.

The world has changed.

Or, at least, this matchup.

Sultai ended up on top… So now what?

More from…

  • Rakdos Sacrifice… and Rakdos Sacrifice
  • Four-color Nicol Bolas
  • Azorius Blink
  • Temur Adventures

… And more!

Check out this week’s Standard recap now:

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Hottest Standard Tech from #mtgtogether

#mtgtogether gives us a window to this weekend’s Arena “Grand Prix”

In light of what’s going on in “the real world” (and the wide scale cancellations of large paper Magic tournaments) CFB Events are trying — for the first time — to run a Grand Prix on Magic: The Gathering Arena.

The simple rules…

  • CFB Events runs multiple flights per day
  • Anyone going 5-1 or better (generally 5-1 or 6-0) qualifies for the Grand Prix this weekend

What was amazing and inspiring to us?

There is all kinds of legitimate great new tech popping up as a result of #mtgtogether!

To date there hasn’t been one reliable repository for the performing lists; so we thought we’d curate some of the Tweets from qualifying players and discuss their deck lists in this week’s episode.

Ral’s Outburst in Temur Reclamation…

… is not even the craziest thing about this qualifying list!

What’s even crazier?

This is a Wilderness Reclamation deck… Crossed with Draw-Go? In addition to two copies of Thassa’s Intervention, the miser’s Aether Gust, and a couple of Negates… Temur Reclamation now packs four — count ’em four — Mystical Disputes in the main!

Pair that with a legitimate transformational sideboard bringing in the Full Four copies of Nightpack Ambusher and you have a meaningfully different look at the archetype.

Who needs Storm’s Wrath or Nissa, Who Shakes the World? Am I right?

Bonecrusher Giant in <strike>Simic</strike> Temur Flash

Here’s another Temur innovation:

Two-thirds Simic Flash… One-third Temur Reclamation?

This deck has a lot of what made Simic Flash the first time around — including Spectral Sailor — but added sweet red cards like Bonecrusher Giant and Expansion // Explosion. And Wilderness Reclamation!

We see the Nightpack Ambushers main deck here… But very low permission (relative to past Simic Flash decks). But who doesn’t love Wilderness Reclamation powering up those Sailors?

And Matt Sperling’s near-perfect Bant List

Mike’s friend Roman Fusco took down an #mtgtogether event 6-0 packing what might be the mathematically perfect Bant list:

Notably:

  • Two copies of Arboreal Grazer
  • Zero copies of Knight of Autumn
  • Four (!) copies of Elspeth Conquers Death (4!) [as it is the best]

Mike would have liked a second Dream Trawler; but Patrick thinks that’s a mere security blanket. The pair agree that Bant is the best deck in Standard, and the list that Sperling came up with (and Roman qualified with) is very — very — close to what they would both play right now.

And Finally… Cavalier of Thorns in Sultai!

Mike has been really low on Sultai, at least relative to the availability of Bant in Standard. His main reason? Not only does it not play Dream Trawler, it couldn’t historically stop it, really.

But Yuta Takahashi’s Cavalier of Thorns has enormous toughness that is difficult (though admittedly not impossible) for Dream Trawler to get through; and with Reach, it can kill Dream Trawler in combat.

And of course, Cavalier of Thorns can help power up the Escape routes on Uro and Polukranos!

Patrick’s favorite feature? Cutting Agonizing Remorse for the last two copies of Growth Spiral. Mike heartily agrees. This is a substantial improvement on the Sultai archetype.

But wait! There’s more!

  • Rakdos sacrifice with no copies of Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
  • Rakdos sacrifice that really — really — hates the graveyard
  • Whether Erebos’s Intervention is even playable
  • Even more Temur

Let’s get #mtgtogether now!

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Let’s Talk About Phoenix of Ash in Mono-Red

Phoenix of Ash was not a popular inclusion in the Worlds Red Decks…

But… Phoenix of Ash Roars Back to Win Grand Prix Lyon

So what happened here?

Phoenix of Ash was a medium-popular card in the pre-Worlds Red Decks. Yet it did not crack the starting sixty of a single deck in Hawaii (by our count there was a single copy in a single sideboard).

And to be fair, for a tournament where Azorius Control ended up on top, Phoenix of Ash is only pretty good.

Aether Gust, Devout Decree, Glass Casket… and even Cerulean Drake saw play at the two at Worlds; all those cards are faster than Phoenix of Ash and all of them foil its natural card advantage in some way.

But Phoenix of Ash is hitting not only sideboards but main decks nowadays… How did it get better?

Phoenix of Ash… Flies?

Believe it or not, “flying” is one of the main things that Phoenix of Ash has going for it. At the time of Grand Prix Lyon, one of the most popular decks in Standard was Temur Adventures… And for a deck with 8+ flying creatures itself, Temur Adventures is embarrassingly bad at defending itself in the air.

But flying is the only thing going for the 2/2.

  • It’s “firebreathing”-type ability allows Phoenix of Ash to not only mow down certain blockers, it scales very well with Embercleave.
  • The card is a great way to set up Spectacle for Light Up the Stage
  • It reinforces both the Red Deck’s haste sub-theme and its two-for-one sub-theme.

We might even play more!

But wait! There’s more!

  • Why Mike likes Bant the best in Standard
  • How Patrick convinced Mike to play Knight of Autumn (you know, like everyone else already does)
  • What’s wrong with the structure of Sultai Ramp (spoilers! we’d run more copies of Growth Spiral)
  • … And more!

Give it a listen now:

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Underworld Breach Decks Break Modern AND Legacy!

Underworld Breach is already famous for its performance in Pioneer… But what it can do in Modern and especially Legacy is nothing short of format-snapping. Make that formats-snapping!

Underworld Breach + Grinding Station is a Hell of a “Plan A”

Here’s a version of the Underworld Breach / Grinding Station strategy by Patrick; based on a build advocated by Pascal Maynard:

You’ll notice that Maynard’s deck looks a lot like… “a real deck” with far less fancy than we might have looked at last week. The presence of cards like Teferi, Time Raveler can bounce hate cards like Leyline of the Void to help win through resistance.

Everything You’d Ever Wanted to Do with a Muddle the Mixture

One of the key additions of this build is Muddle the Mixture. 

Muddle the Mixture can get two mana spells like — you guessed it — Grinding Station OR Underworld Breach! This can help set up your combo… Or in a pinch, protect it.

But that’s not all!

Did you see the one-of Dance of the Manse?

Not just a Standard playmate to Doom Foretold any more, Dance of the Manse is a cool backup in this build. If your opponent has answered both your Grinding Station and Underworld Breach, searing up Dance of the Manse [with Muddle the Mixture] can get you back on track… All at once!

Some additional novel ways to win…

Breach, Galvanic Blast you three times… That’s twelve!

Cards like Galvanic Blast are cheap to re-buy with Underworld Breach (I guess, assuming you have enough red mana), and can kill the opponent the good old fashioned way, seemingly out of nowhere. How much did they Shock themselves with fetchlands? Don’t miss that angle of attack.

Hall of Heliod’s Generosity

Hall of Heliod’s Generosity is another weird way to win. More often you can force the opponent to have an answer to Underworld Breach over and over and over again… But in certain unusual games, you can deck the opponent if they don’t manage to kill you first. Again, make sure you know your ways to win! (Or in this case, kind of just not lose.)

Mystic Sanctuary

The one copy of Mystic Sanctuary is a cool little wrinkle as well. Not only can you re-find your solo Dance of the Manse (and maybe in a situation where you can actually make a team of giant 4/4 creatures!) but buying back that sideboard Timely Reinforcements is sure to ruin Mike’s day [you know, if you happen to be playing against him.]

Underworld Breach is Even More Broken in Legacy!

Brain Freeze largely replaces Grinding Station in this strategy.

While this deck can honestly still be optimized (probably via the addition of black mana for Infernal Tutor), the concept is very strong. Brain Freeze itself can get the deck moving… And it’s important to note that any subsequent Brain Freezes you play out of your graveyard will fire off Storm copies.

The ability to buy back Lion’s Eye Diamond for essentially no mana (but three cards) makes the Brain Freeze pairing truly outstanding… And the de-emphasis of Grinding Station for a card that can also kill the opponent makes the deck itself more streamlined.

There are a lot of possibilities still for Legacy Underworld Breach decks! And Patrick’s description of what is right around the corner has Mike ready to hang up his Basic Mountains in that format.

Get ready to share all this week’s excitement (and gear up for Modern Regionals) right now!

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All the Homes for Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger in Modern

Get Ready for Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger
from Theros Beyond Death

Kroxa in Traditional Jund

Michael Farrell won the recent Star City Classic with traditional Jund…

… with some notable Rakdos additions.

Kroxa, Titan of Death’s Hunger falls into the traditional Jund model of a card that can generate card advantage… But is also a threat. In a sense, it’s kind of like a Bloodbraid Elf!

… But Patrick points out that it kind of sucks to flip over Kroxa with you Bloodbraid Elf.

A terrible person of enormous focus…

-Mike, seeing Collective Brutality, Huntmaster of the Fells, and Kitchen Finks in the side

Kroxa in Death’s Shadow

  • MF: It’s weird that this deck doesn’t have Lightning Bolt.
  • PC: What does Lightning Bolt even kill… Other than Lightning Skelemental?

While this deck is cool, Mike can’t get off the fact that this deck has all these aggro elements — four copies of Lightning Skelemental, come on — but no Lightning Bolts.

It even has Hazoret, the Fervent in the sideboard!

This deck doesn’t quite know what it wants to be yet… At least according to Mike. On the other hand, it has sweet new technology, like Unearth backing Lightning Skelemental for mad haste, more damage, and a shocking amount of card advantage.

Kroxa in Brand New Black-Red

By contrast there is a sweet new Rakdos list that inherits many of the same principles of the Jund — and previous Mardu — decks in Modern.

Mike calls this 5-0 list from a recent Modern League “the deck of the week” and Patrick points out its inspired use of “the black Strategic Planning”, Ransack the Lab.

Good removal, great disruption, and more Unearthed Lightning Skelementals!

But Wait! There’s More!

This episode covers a wide range of Modern movement since the banning of key format Staples like Mycosynth Lattice and Oko, Thief of Crowns. The best of the rest:

  • The deck that is probably going to get Underworld Breach banned in Modern (and how to beat it)
  • The rise of Dryad of the Ilysian Grove in Primeval Titan decks
  • Stoneforge Mystic and Uro, Titan of Nature’s Wrath together (with Blood Moon) for the first time
  • Scale Up in Infect
  • Finding Kess, Dissident Mage with Bring to Light
  • Turbo “Impossible to Cast” Spells
  • Novel ways to get Emrakul, the Aeons Torn into play
  • … And THE BEST Once Upon a Time deck in Modern

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The Most Exciting Decks from Worlds 2020

Innovations in Standard? Look no further than Archon of Sun’s Grace

PV won Worlds 2020 with Azorius Control

Was PV’s one of the most exciting lists of Worlds 2020?

Patrick in particular calls it well tuned.

Moving away from four copies of Dream Trawler to incorporate faster threats (or stabilization tools) like Archon of Sun’s Grace, PV’s winning list exploited a power enchantments sub-theme with cards like Banishing Light and Thirst for Meaning in addition to the ubiquitous Omen of the Sea and The Birth of Meletis.

Mike loved U/W coming into the tournament… But liked a different list.

Thoralf Severin added key innovations… Especially to the sideboard of Azorius Control

Spectral Sailor out of the sideboard!

In the market for “some kind of Commence the Endgame”?

Thinking you might try to grind with Chemister’s Insight after sideboarding?

Thoralf Severin did you one better with his addition of Spectral Sailor.

Dodging Dovin’s Veto and largely sneaking under other types of permission spells, Spectral Sailor can act like a portable Chemister’s Insight… But one that skirts the rules of Narset, Parter of Veils and Teferi, Time Raveler much better than some other card drawing options.

Speaking of powerful card draw, Severin also packed Emergency Powers!

One of the flashiest cards to see play a Worlds, Emergency Powers — at least when you have a Narset and they don’t — can have a spectacular impact on the the game.

A “Shock”-ing Number of Burn Spells at Worlds 2020

If I told you there would be four dedicated Mono-Red players in a field of sixteen; and you didn’t know much else about them…

How many Shocks do you imagine they would be packing between their decks?

Sixteen?

That would have been my guess!

The real answer?

Three… Between the four of them! One mage didn’t even pack main deck Bonecrusher Giant!

The aspiring fire gods of Worlds 2020 had a really specific thought process on Shock… Don’t be bad against Azorius Control and Jeskai Fires.

At the very least… They largely beat up Temur.

Was Jeskai Fires the Deck of Worlds 2020?

Play Robber of the Rich in your sideboard

The most pronounced sideboard card that Gabriel Nassif and Raphael Levy ran in their Jeskai Fires deck was of course Robber of the Rich. Quite simply, it can potentially single-handedly dominate Azorius Control.

But Robber was far from the only unique feature of their build! Check out this week’s podcast to find out all the reasons we think it might just have been the deck of Worlds 2020:

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The Best Decks in Pioneer

Thassa’s Oracle is played in many of the Best Decks in Pioneer

Dimir Inverter is One of the Best Decks in Pioneer

There is no surprise there!

If you can believe it, Inverter of Truth is the worst card in the Dimir Inverter seventy-five! Normally overpowered two-card combo decks at least do the metagame the courtesy of playing a ton of bad cards… But not in this case.

Dimir Inverter can do a passable job of playing a Control deck, though Patrick is quick to point out that a well-placed Unmoored Ego or Slaughter Games for the aforementioned Inverter can knock it down a peg.

But don’t be overconfident if you draw your sideboard cards! Dimir Inverter will often be bringing in multiple Pack Rats or Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet as alternate ways to win.

More impressive than simply winning the Players Tour? Phoenix Champin Corey Burkhart had to rattle off thirteen straight wins to take the title after a slow start.

Lotus Breach is one of the Best Decks in Pioneer

Not to be outdone at Players Tour Phoenix, William “Baby Huey” Jensen put up the umpteenth amazing finish of his Hall of Fame career with Lotus Breach.

Huey is the first person to make Top 8 of a Pro Tour (or Players Tour) in four different decades… And he did it with the mighty Lotus Breach.

Can plausibly viable archetype Azorius Control ever beat Lotus Breach in Game One? Think about that before you next sleeve up an Absorb in Pioneer.

Patrick Explains Bonecrusher Giant to MichaelJ

So here’s the card Bonecrusher Giant:

Bonecrusher Giant

Or, I guess, here’s the “fun” version of Bonecrusher Giant:

“Fun!”

Michael apologizes for ever doubting the power of this card, which not only made Top 8 of Players Tour Phoenix… But helped to win Grand Prix Phoenix in a very different Red Deck.

Patrick compares this card to one that is a well-known MichaelJ favorite in that is simply ingenious. We won’t spoil it here because it’s super worth it and you should definitely check out this week’s podcast right now to find out more:

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The Return of Mono-Black Devotion

Gray Merchant of Asphodel creates a huge incentive to play Mono-Black Devotion

Starting with Mono-Black Devotion

There are a ton of great new decks (and new looks at old decks) thanks to Theros Beyond Death entering Standard…

But both Patrick and Michael think Mono-Black Devotion will be one of the most important breakout strategies.

Haven’t we seen this deck before? In the pretty recent past? Why Mono-Black Devotion now? Simple: Lots of the new additions actually reference the mechanic! Examples include:

  • The aforementioned Gray Merchant of Asphodel,
  • Drag to the Underworld, and
  • Tymaret, Chosen from Death

But despite missing some key words on its cardboard, Michael thinks that a different card is the one that makes this deck…

Nightmare Shepherd in Mono-Black Devotion

Nightmare Shepherd

This new Demon is one of the cards that really makes this deck hum. If you play a Gray Merchant of Asphodel with it on the battlefield, you can enjoy the intense combination of black mana symbols… But that’s not all. Sacrificing the five mana Zombie to a card like Woe Strider can set up another trigger.

Thanks to Nightmare Shepherd, it will be child’s play to take an opponent from half their life total to zilch in a single turn.

You can also exploit timing tricks, like sacrificing a Yarok’s Fenlurker or Burglar Rat during the opponent’s draw to keep them locked at no cards in hand (a pretty rare opportunity for instant speed discard).

Tons and tons of focus on Mono-Black Devotion this week… But that’s not all!

The Best of the Rest…

  • Where do Cauldron Familiar and Witch’s Oven fit into this metagame?
  • How about Rakdos instead of Mono-Black? Do you get more from the second color… Or more from the literal Devotion to Black?
  • All the different ways folks have tried The Akroan War so far. What’s more exciting? Pairing it with Witch’s Oven… Or stealing creatures permanently with Thassa, Deep Dwelling?
  • “Time Wipe my Atris, Oracle of Half-Truths” … Also at instant speed
  • Which deck does Mike call “the king of mid-range”?
  • What seeming non-bo does Patrick point out is actually a combo?
  • WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR? Listen now!

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The Masterful Design of Dream Trawler

Dream Trawler is a wonderfully designed Magic: The Gathering card

Dream Trawler… Is Mike’s favorite card from Theros Beyond Death

Now that the whole set has been revealed, Mike has a slam dunk favorite card… And it’s this big sphinx!

  • Flying, Lifelink
  • Discard a card: Dream Trawler gains hexproof until end of turn. Tap it.

A large flyer with five toughness and lifelink is reminiscent of Baneslayer Angel. This card actually costs a little more (6 instead of 5 mana). But this one offers a little something extra: It doesn’t die to Doom Blade.

“Protect the Queen”

One of the most celebrated blue strategies of all time is “protect the queen”. Rather than using your permission to stop threats like a Draw-Go deck; or to force through your combo like Trix or High Tide… Protect the Queen seeks to use permission to defend a key creature.

Usually the creature — often a large flyer — will win the game in just a few swings. You don’t need enough permission to stop everything… Just enough to keep the creature alive for as long as it takes to win. Finite and finite.

There are two advantages for protecting this sphinx.

First, you can use any card to give Dream Trawler hexproof. You don’t need to draw into particular permission.

Secondly, and subtly, you can consistently attack. Because of its draw-aligned ability (and lifelink) Dream Trawler is better on offense than defense. The trick is, if the opponent lets you attack, your Dream Trawler will already be tapped. If they use removal mid-combat, you can discard without losing the damage.

Everything to Every One

Dream Trawler has a little something from all the great and iconic control finishers from over the years. Like evrything from Serra Angel on down, it’s a large flyer… Six mana instead of five, maybe, but similar.

While it doesn’t have vigilance, Dream Trawler’s lifelink allows it to play offense and defense simultaneously. Its hexproof makes protecting it easier.

But how about those other two lines?

  • Whenever you draw a card, Dream Trawler gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
  • Whenever Dream Trawler attacks, draw a card.

It’s got some power-buffing like Psychatog.

It draws cards when attacking like Ophidian.

But even more than its nostalgia; even more than its improvement on just dying to Doom Blade; Dream Trawler is an elegantly designed card. Come listen to Patrick’s breakdown on how this creature is a masterwork:

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There’s Lots to Love with Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Meet Thassa, Deep-Dwelling from Theros Beyond Death:

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling

Let’s break down Thassa’s abilities…

Indestructible is great! Especially if you turn Thassa “on” with devotion to blue of five or greater, a 6/5 indestructible for four mana deserves a second look.

“3U: Tap another target creature” though…

Probably too much mana.

If you’re in for Thassa, you’re probably in for that exile ability.

Thassa, Deep-Dwelling as a “personal Howling Mine”

One of the most obvious ways to play Thassa, Deep-Dwelling is with a lot of 187 creatures. If you play any creatures with abilities that trigger when they enter the battlefield, Thassa represents an easy way to build card advantage over time.

It does what it does without any incremental mana requirements every turn.

If you just choose and play creatures that generate card advantage, this God will help you generate lots of card advantage! What about…

Thassa’s Oracle from Theros Beyond Death

Thassa’s Oracle is a perfect MichaelJ card! Highly reminiscent of his beloved Omenspeaker, Thassa’s Oracle is even more on-brand with Thassa’s devotion to blue theme. It’s a card that can help you to set up your early game and blocks effectively for its casting cost. And, of course… Sometimes it just wins the game!

Arcanist’s Owl from Throne of Eldraine

How about this Bird?

Arcanist’s Owl is a good “engine” card. Meaning, once it’s already on the battlefield, Thassa can profitably exile it for more and more card advantage. Not for nothing, but the Owl also increases your devotion to blue by four (despite being an artifact). Interestingly, because it is an artifact, it can be a good target for other deck manipulation. For example, Emry, Lurker of the Loch is an early game creature you might want to play. Emry is another nice setup spell, and a worthy exile target itself.

Both these cards make nice friends with Meteor Golem!

Meteor Golem

It’s not going to be easy to lose once you start “Blinking” Meteor Golems every turn.

Best of the Rest

  • Which Elder Giant is best… And why?
  • How do you counter the un-counter-able?
  • Rating Interventions
  • All the ways you might want to UNLEASH THE KRAKEN

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