Let’s Talk About the Players Tour Finals

Talk of the Players Tour Finals: Growth Spiral

Growth Spiral
Is Growth Spiral the most dominant card in Standard?

The “bad” news (if you’re a fan of metagame diversity)… Growth Spiral represented about 70% of the Players Tour Finals.

The “good” news then? It only represented 50% of the Top 8!

While Growth Spiral appeared in a variety of decks in the Swiss, including Bant Control and others; in the Top 8, it showed up in essentially two [related] archetypes:

  1. Temur Reclamation – A Wilderness Reclamation deck that starts on the aforementioned Growth Spiral and utilizes its mana engine to make a large Expansion // Explosion or Shark Typhoon. Power, speed, and card advantage… Plus a variety of generally good cards and room for tons of main deck interaction.
  2. Four-color Reclamation – A variation on the above, but adding white for particularly Teferi, Time Raveler. The while splash ups land counts to as high as 30/60 including Raugrin Triome. Those Plains give Four-color Reclamation some improved tools, for example Dovin’s Veto over Negate. Solar Blaze over Storm’s Wrath helps this deck keep its Teferi in play while defending itself.

These two decks made up about half the Players Tour Finals field, but still won over 50% of their matches, collectively.

A Hall of Fame Performance for Azorius

Yorion, Sky Nomad defines Standard U/W

Raphael Levy was one of only three Azorius competitors in the Players Tour Finals. His 80-card deck played one Yorion, Sky Nomad in the sideboard as its Companion… and two in the main deck!

A study in synergy, this deck packs a ton of enchantments that Yorion can blink — like Omen of the Sea, Omen of the Sun, or The Birth of Meletis… And crossed over with Archon of Sun’s Grace for even more flying creatures; even more enchantment synergy.

Most creature decks did not perform well at the Players Tour Finals; and they really would not want to contend with this deck’s Shatter the Sky.

Two Creature Decks That Did Perform…

… Are Mono-Black Aggro and Mardu Winota.

Only one copy of either archetype was played in the tournament; both won 77% of their matches. Both made Top 8.

Mono-Black Aggro today is extremely biased. Playing cards like Hunted Nightmare, it assumes that there won’t be many opposing creatures to interact with on the ground.

Hunted Nightmare usually has a pretty big disadvantage. Usually.

A 4/5 creature for only three mana, Hunted Nightmare is a very efficient beatdown creature if no one is getting deathtouch. Regardless, it’s got great stats-to-casting cost numbers; and is hard to block.

Mono Black is biased beyond even this card… With both main deck Duress and Kitesail Freebooter, it can be flat-out bad against opposing creature dense decks.

Example: Michael Jacobs’s Mardu Winota deck plays almost all creatures and only 4 Raise the Alarm for non-creature spells!

Among this deck’s hits are Basri’s Lieutenant, Lazotep Reaver, and Woe Strider… The coolest Woe Striders in history mind you. That 0/1 Goat is there to rumble in The Red Zone.

But which deck did we really dislike?

Pretty easy way to find out 🙂

Check out “Let’s Talk About the Players Tour Finals” here and now!

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A HISTORIC Episode of Top Level Podcast

Historic is basically all the cards that are legal on Magic: The Gathering Arena.

We’re gaga for this “whole new format”!

Historic is not just brand-new, it’s gotten an even fresher coat of paint due to the recent release of Jumpstart.

Let’s dig in to some of the cool new decks.

Fire Prophecy in Naya Tinker Tokens

Craterhoof Behemoth is the only green card — and the only creature — in “Naya” Tinker Tokens

One of Historic’s distinct decks is “Naya” Tinker Tokens. It’s really a Boros deck with a pair of Craterhoof Behemoths. Craterhoof Behemoth is not only the only green card in the seventy-five… It’s also the only creature!

The deck has plenty of token producers… Legion’s Landing from Ixalan gets the party started, but there is no shortage of great token producers in red or white.

Theoretically you go wide with any number of Vampires, Dinosaurs, Goblins, or Human Soldiers. Then bam! Turn four you can hit one with a Transmogrify (or turn five sub in Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast) and you’ve got that Craterhoof Behemoth.

At 5GGG this isn’t the kind of card you can really cast with red or white mana, so cheating the Beast into play is the only way to go.

So what’s up with Fire Prophecy?

Fire Prophecy serves two important functions in Historic Naya

Fire Prophecy serves two functions in this deck. If you draw your Craterhoof Behemoth, it can conveniently get it out of your hand and beck into your library where you can safely “Tinker” it up. In addition, it does exactly three damage, which is important against this deck’s greatest enemy.

Phyrexian Tower in Rakdos Sacrifice

Phyrexian Tower

Rakdos Sacrifice isn’t just one of the best decks in Standard… It’s arguably the best deck in Historic, too!

The deck has all the same incentives as the Standard version — Witch’s Oven plus Cauldron Familiar in particular — but gets a huge upgrade in the mana department. In addition to Dragonskull Summit to fix your colors, this deck exploits the Urza’s Saga classic Phyrexian Tower as an extra sacrifice outlet… And one that doesn’t cost you a spell slot.

What are you setting up with these sources of “sacrifice” text?

Mayhem Devil is one of the key payoffs to Rakdos Sacrifice

If Rakdos Sacrifice has Mayhem Devil on the battlefield — as long as they have any source of “sacrifice” — this deck can keep Naya Tinker Tokens pinned. Mayhem Devil can kill a token in response to targeting it with Transmogrify or Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast, preventing Craterhoof Behemoth from making its mischief.

… Not to mention the fact that a persistent source of dealing one damage is just fantastic against 1/1 token creatures, anyway.

Go Go Goblins!

Another deck that might just be the best in the format is Goblins. Both Mono-Red Goblins and Rakdos splashing for Call of the Death-Dweller pack a ton of power and synergy in a tight offensive package.

In a deck of [almost] all Goblins, Muxus, Goblin Grandee is a one-card army.

Yes, they go directly onto the battlefield. What the!?!

And Lots More Historic Decks and Discussion!

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Arcum’s Astrolabe is Banned in Modern!

Arcum’s Astrolabe is [FINALLY] Banned in Modern

Bans, Bans All Around…

This week the ban hammer flew wide! Modern, Pauper, and something called Historic all lost Staple cards. Arcum’s Astrolabe is probably the highest profile (but Patrick points out that little one mana artifact will continue to light it up in Legacy).

Modern players, though will surely enjoy the opportunity to play regular old basic lands without feeling silly or inadequate.

Also un-Banned!

Oath of Nissa
Oath of Nissa returns to Pioneer

In Pioneer, Oath of Nissa — a card somewhat philosophically aligned with Arcum’s Astrolabe, actually — is un-banned!

When Oath of Nissa left Pioneer, it was during a time where one more green pip could have felt format-prohibitive. Given the power upgrades to other colors, the Powers That Be in Renton, WA decided to give green a little more consistency.

Patrick and Michael note that, though a very good card, Oath of Nissa is not particularly more powerful than one mana competitors like Traverse the Ulvenwald or Attune with Aether.

Mike’s New Favorite Thing

So apparently they play black in their Historic Red Decks.

Who knew?

Patrick.

Not only that, but Patrick told Mike. And while he started off incredulous, when he found out that the reason is that you can Call of the Death-Dweller up a Goblin Chainwhirler… Like it says, we’ve discovered Mike’s new favorite thing.

Giving the 3/3 first striker menace is bad enough; but they’re not going to have any creatures to block with anyway on account of having already given it deathtouch. Truly this is the world’s cheapest Plague Wind.

It’s a rare tour of formats various. What’s next for Modern, Pioneer, or Historic given the many bans (and one un-ban)? Find out right now!

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Everything Old is New Again in Standard!

New stuff is still new, but we’ll get to that in a second.

Peer into the Abyss:
New, weird, and extremely powerful

Nissa, Who Shakes the World in Mono-Green

Mike is a huge fan of EDEL’s recent innovations in Mono-Green.

At the top end we see The Great Henge AND Nissa, Who Shakes the World!

The Great Henge is an awesome three-four combination with Lovestruck Beast; while — essentially to the surprise of no one — Nissa, Who Shakes the World provides an entirely new dimension to Mono-Green play.

It’s all about hiding behind your creatures until you get to Nissa’s ultimate… Then if you can lose after drawing twenty or so extra cards… Okay, you’re probably not going to lose very many of those games.

Rotting Regisaur in Mono-Black

Aggressive decks are doing well in Standard right now. Not just Mono-Green… But Mono-Black has stormed back with a Vengeance.

One of the main reasons is the return of Rotting Regisaur. Once again the biggest bad in the format, Rotting Regisaur provides a semi-combination with a new card from Core Set 2021:

Rotting Regisaur can discard Demonic Embrace with little penalty

Before you successfully Hellbent yourself, your Rotting Regisaur will often do a little damage to your cards in hand. If you have to discard an action spell… It might as well be Demonic Embrace!

Not only can you cast Demonic Embrace from your graveyard later in the game, but it can also set up a ten-point smash with the Rotting Regisaur that put it there in the first place.

Speaking of older cards, Blacklance Paragon is quietly one of the most effective cards in this archetype… Despite its being a Knights-poor deck

Everything New… Is Also Still New

So up top we teased out the new card Peer into the Abyss.

… But how do you even cast that?

May we suggest a…

Titans’ Nest

Mono-Green blah blah. Mono-Black blah blah. Updates to Rakdos oh sure.

But Peer into the Abyss plus Titan’s Nest in a Yorion, Sky Nomad deck?

In the podcast, friends! Find out more now:

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First Looks at Core Set 2021 Standard

Ugin, the Spirit Dragon

Is Ugin, the Spirit Dragon the spiciest “new” card from M21?

Patrick is not sold on the three-color Casualties of War deck featuring four copies of…

Adding “new” card Ugin, the Spirit Dragon as spicy at all. A mild spice perhaps?

But third turn Cultivate is not too bad; unless you’ve hit a second turn Cultivate via Arboreal Grazer (in which case third turn is disappointing).

But clearly Mike loves 14 four-ofs with “exactly” the correct number of Islands and Swamps. Discipline!

“Ugin is a great card to Ramp into, you know?”

-Patrick Chapin

A Lesson in Glaring Aegis

Glaring Aegis can affect opposing blockers

Small note for folks interested in beating down with white weenie creatures. Mike has actually played a lot of the White Auras deck with Lurrus of the Dream-Den over the last month or three, and makes a strong argument for four copies of Glaring Aegis (versus three or fewer).

Glaring Aegis is actually one of the only cards in your deck that can interact with the opponent’s side of the battlefield (or for that matter, one of the only cards that you can put into your graveyard).

The theory is that you can put Glaring Aegis on your Alseid of Life’s Bounty, tap one of the opponent’s creatures of color x, and give your attacker protection from color y. Both Alseid and Glaring Aegis go to the graveyard. Now you play the Aegis from your graveyard, tapping another creature, and ultimately getting in for one extra damage.

This is how you get past two colors of defense, exploit your option for Lurrus card advantage, and punch for one more damage.

So now you know!

But what about…

Lurrus of the Dream-Den main deck?

Archfiend’s Vessel

A new build of Rakdos Sacrifice playing multiple copies of Lurrus of the Dream-Den main deck enables you to break Archfiend’s Vessel.

Lurrus and Rakdos Sacrifice were no strangers to one another before, but instead of a now-expensive Companion, Lurrus is promoted to main deck. This lets you aggressively play and trade Archfiend’s Vessel early. It’s a 1/1 lifelink for one mana… Not “bad” at all.

But if you can trade it, or sacrifice it with one of your numerous Cauldron Familiars or Village Rites, main-deck Lurrus lets you play one quickly out of the graveyard. HOW DO YOU PLAN TO LOSE?

… And getting a Deathtouch counter on Mayhem Devil with Call of the Death-Dweller is a heck of a machine gun, itself.

And so many more M21 deck lists…

  • Punching for zero with Primal Might
  • Patrick explains playing Jolrael to Mike (or tries)
  • How to get even more value from Frantic Inventory
  • And more!

Check it out now:

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Is Alpine Houndmaster the Best Card in M21?

Alpine Houndmaster marries Grizzly Bears and Ancestral Recall

What Makes Alpine Houndmaster Worth Talking About?

Alpine Houndmaster would certainly be an odd “best card in the set” if in fact it ended up the best card in the set. But this one is kind of like an Ancestral Recall.

You play the Alpine Houndmaster and get one 2/2 for two mana (1); but in addition you get to search up Alpine Watchdog (2) and Igneous Cur (3)… So three-for-one!

While potentially powerful, the Houndmaster demands a steep deck building cost. In addition to playing [presumably] four copies of Alpine Houndmaster, you have to play some copies of both of the other two to get maximum value. On the high end you might spend twelve slots in your deck for four copies of each of the three two drops; but at a minimum, you need to play at least one Alpine Watchdog and at least one Igneous Cur in order to get paid off by even the first Houndmaster.

Therefore the question can only be answered if we know if we want to actually pay the deck building cost. Or, would you want to play any of the other two at all?

Houndmaster’s Best Friend: Alpine Watchdog

Alpine Watchdog

Mike points out that twenty years ago, back when he was a kind of White Weenie player, he had to pay a full WW for a 2/2 creature with vigilance. For 1W he only got a white Grizzly Bears.

Not that he actually paid for either thanks to Ramosian Sergeant or anything:

Alpine Watchdog is an update to the same. You probably wouldn’t be stuffing either Fresh Volunteers or Steadfast Guard into your sixty without Rebel support; but Patrick points out that people weren’t really into 1/1 flyers for two mana either… Except Squadron Hawk proved everybody wrong.

Good doggy.

Houndmaster’s (other) Best Friend: Igneous Cur

Igneous Cur

Igneous Cur is probably better than Alpine Watchdog all other things held equal.

If you’re stuck casting it on turn two… It’s still a better body — tapped out — than a Runaway Steam-Kin. It will trade for the Stomp half of Bonecrusher Giant or Shock like any other x/2 early.

Later in the game, it’s a legitimate threat. Igneous Cur and a ton of untapped mana is like a Fireball waiting to splatter the opponent; or at the very least, trade up with a more expensive creature. Not bad at all, being on the bonus.

The Best of the Rest

Is Alpine Houndmaster going to prove to be the best card of Core Set 2021? We’ll have to wait and see… But both hosts are cheering for it.

Potential payoffs include Rin and Seri, Inseparable; while Feline Sovereign can be a rival or teammate (probably with Rin and Seri, Inseparable).

Mike’s old school favorite Faith’s Fetters might be better than ever; while the even more ancient evil, spiteful Kaervek finally makes his way to a cardboard depiction.

All that and more in this week’s (slightly belated) podcast!

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Terror of the Peaks – Fair… and Not!

Who’s Afraid of Terror of the Peaks?

Terror of the Peaks

… Maybe you should be!

Let’s break it down…

Terror of the Peaks is a 5/4 flying Dragon for five mana. It’s comparable to many other Constructed-playable Dragons.

But unlike many of them, it has a built-in defensive capability. They might get your Terror of the Peaks, but you give them a Lava Spike back.

If they don’t deal with it, though? Terror of the Peaks can be a true terror for the opponent! Not only will it not take long to kill the opponent “naturally” with five power and evasion, other considerations can close the kill super fast… Or even in just one turn.

For the “fair” take on Terror of the Peaks, look for this card to show up in Gruul as a straight swap to start.

What if You Weirdly Had this Spider?

Sporeweb Weaver

“I didn’t like Gruul Spellbreaker anyway.”

-Mike

Sporeweb Weaver is a pretty good creature on the merits. It’s a tenacious defender for its cost; and can put the big hurt on both Mono-Blue and Mono-Red Aggro.

So… Pretty good card; devastating in some matchups.

But how does this card go with Terror of the Peaks?

Putting it All Together

No one read that text box, please!

So you’ve got a Terror of the Peaks on the battlefield.

You play Sporeweb Spider. Ting for one!

Now you play a Selfless Savior. Trigger your Dragon, targeting Sporeweb Spider. In response, sacrifice Selfless Savior to give Sporeweb Spider indestructible.

Now when you finish resolving the ting on Sporeweb Spider, you can make a 1/1 and get other triggers. The new creature also gives you a Terror of the Peaks trigger. Target your 1/4 again; rinse and repeat.

Since your Spider is indestructible, you can do this as much as you want, gain essentially infinite life, make infinite power, and finish off with a point on the opponent.

In sum: Terror of the Peaks is great fair… And might be something else entirely when infinite or unfair.

The Best of the Rest…

  • All of the M21 Planeswalkers
  • Barrin, Tolarian Archmage
  • and more!

Check it out:

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Llanowar Visionary is a Titan

Baneslayer Angels.

Mulldrifters.

Titans.

Discuss.

Michael and Patrick discuss this quite a bit, mostly around large creatures (often Baneslayers) from the upcoming Core Set 2021. But you know what is, and unambiguously, a Titan?

Llanowar Visionary

Llanowar Visionary is a Titan

Mike has already drawn a line in the M21 sand: Llanowar Visionary is his favorite card; and he is unlikely to be moved from this point.

Drawing a card is approximately as powerful as searching your library for a basic land. Any longtime readers or listeners of Mike know his adoration for cards like Borderland Ranger. Borderland Ranger was a 2/2 creature for three mana that searched up a basic. No one wanted to trade with it.

Llanowar Visionary is largely an upgraded Borderland Ranger. In the early game drawing a card will often be worse than searching up a basic land (but will usually be better late game). The difference? The body on Llanowar Visionary actually matters!

That’s the difference between a Mulldrifter like Borderland Ranger and a Titan. Both cards generate value immediately; pointing a Doom Blade at either is going to put you at least a little behind. But while Borderland Ranger is a boring 2/2 after its 187, Llanowar Visionary is an awesome mana Elf and the opponent will often be overjoyed to Doom Blade one.

Basri’s Lieutenant or Baneslayer Angel?

Which is better?

We’ll actually get to find out, given that Baneslayer Angel — the original best large creature of all time — is back in Standard! This will allow for direct comparison to Basri’s Lieutenant:

Basri’s Lieutenant

Protection from multicolored might be a big game. Stonecoil Serpent certainly helped carve its niche on the back of that ability in Pioneer.

While it says 3/4 in the bottom-right, Basri’s Lieutenant is a de facto 4/5.

But maybe most of all, Basri’s Lieutenant can produce 2/2 Knight creature tokens when certain of your creatures die. It can defy removal and set up any number of profitable trades, therefore.

But will it be better than Baneslayer?

Stay tuned…

How to Play with Peer into the Abyss

Peer into the Abyss

This is a tough one to assess.

Do you target yourself?

When exactly do you target the opponent?

Some pretty good thoughts and one mondo combo one click away:

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Agent of Treachery Banned! (and other stories)

Regular listeners know that we kind of punted last Thursday’s episode in light of the announcements we knew were going to happen today.

And they were three doozies!

Agent of Treachery

I. Agent of Treachery is banned in Standard

(and “suspended” in Historic)

Patrick and Michael are kind of divided on this one. Michael doesn’t really mind Agent of Treachery in and of itself… He points out that the card had a [reasonably] long and [somewhat] productive career from the Oko days.

You know, back when you actually had to cast the card.

And if you’re casting it? Agent of Treachery isn’t particularly offensive for seven mana. The problem of course is that in Standard right now, between the Lukka, Coppercoat Outcast combo and rolling the dice with Winota, Joiner of Forces, no one is actually paying retail for Agent of Treachery.

Patrick — perhaps rightfully — points out that whether it’s cast fair-style or not, no one is really having a lot of fun playing against it. Standard will be more fun without it.

Fires of Invention

II. Fires of Invention is also banned in Standard!

(and similarly suspended in Historic)

Again we have a host-divide!

Michael doesn’t really mind Fires of Invention; and reminds Patrick that he thought it was one of the worst cards in the Jeskai Yorion deck; Patrick vehemently disagrees…

And points out that Jeskai Yorion has a positive win rate against basically every other archetype in the format!

With disproportionate performance in an already-kind-of-stale Standard, banning Fires of Invention will probably improve everyone’s experience.

Neither banning has anywhere near the impact of a fundamental change in the Companion rules, though…

The New Companion Rule

From Ian Duke’s announcement:

Once per game, any time you could cast a sorcery (during your main phase when the stack is empty), you can pay 3 generic mana to put your companion from your sideboard into your hand. This is a special action, not an activated ability.

Instead of having access to casting an eighth card straight out of their sideboards, Companion players will now have to “buy” the extra card for three mana. As the Companion will go to their hands, this will do (at least) two things:

  1. Open up the ability to interact with Companions. For instance, discard may become an effective way to deal with one. Cards like Robber of the Rich will also gain text, and the ability to directly compete with Companion card advantage.
  2. Slow down Companions. They all essentially have a three mana “tax” that they didn’t yesterday. We speculate that there is no longer a reason for Lurrus of the Dream-Den to be banned in Vintage or Legacy, as its extreme speed has been curbed. Similarly, we predict Zirda, the Dawnwaker will also be pulled from the Legacy banned list.

But what’s next for Standard?

Which Companions will continue to be strong, and which will lose their luster? Listen to “Agent of Treachery Banned! (and other stories)” to hear our immediate takes:

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Zirda, the Dawnwaker is Banned in Legacy!

Zirda, the Dawnwaker is one of two Companions to be banned before Ikoria: Lair of Behemoths is even legal on paper

“I don’t think they banned too many Companions.”

-Patrick

We knew from the outset that Lurrus of the Dream-Den was going to be really good with Black Lotus. All you had to do was draw your Black Lotus and you could deploy your Lurrus of the Dream-Den on the first turn and re-play the Lotus! The ban in Vintage was thus eminently predictable.

Interestingly, Vintage usually tries to deal with overpowered cards via restriction (rather than banning). But restriction under the current rules doesn’t stop Lurrus from being played as a Companion… So ban it is!

Joining Lurrus on the Legacy banned list is fellow Companion Zirda, the Dawnwaker. Zirda is abusively powerful with mana artifacts with “untap” abilities like Grim Monolith and Basalt Monolith.

Zirda, the Dawnwaker

There’s lots of ways that Zirda can break; here’s a simple implementation:

  • Turn two, play your second land and a Grim Monolith
  • Turn three, float 3 — and don’t even hit your land drop. Tap your original two lands, using one of the 3 Monolith mana to cast Zirda; you have 2 floating… Which, with Zirda in play, is exactly what you need to untap the Grim Monolith.
  • You can tap for 3, use 2 to untap the Monolith, and essentially make infinite colorless mana on turn three.
Zirda, the Dawnwaker enables infinite mana with Grim Monolith

Zirda wasn’t a problem yet: But the writing was on the wall.

All the Companions! All the Standard!

  • Solar Blaze is the hot new tech in 80-card Jeskai. Unlike with Shatter the Sky, your Agent of Treachery and Yorion, Sky Nomad will live through the ‘Blaze
  • Heraldic Banner helps cast Obosh, the Preypiercer in Mono-Red! Accelerating three-to-five is less exciting than decelerating three-to-one to leave up Shock mana or pop out another hasty one drop.
  • Bolas’s Citadel replaces Casualties of War in Jund Sacrifice. Now that no one is playing permanents, six mana Desert Twisters are less exciting than forcing the opponent to take ten.
  • Lurrus of the Dream-Den enables a Bogles-like White Weenie deck that violates the spirit of the law… and the opponent’s life total.
  • The four-color Neoform deck that Patrick is afraid might be busted…
  • And the critical difference between Mono-Green Ramp and Simic Mutate.

Give it a listen:

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