Thu, 10 May 2018
This is History of Benalia:
History of Benalia
History of Benalia is a three mana Saga.
A Saga is a sorcery-speed enchantment.
It produces two power on the first turn you play it. Then, when you reach Chapter II of the Saga, it produces an additional two power. Consequently -- and not to be too obvious -- but that is four power across multiple bodies for three total mana.
Thanks to Chapter III's "Knights you control get +2/+1 until end of turn[,]" with only the two Knights, you can attack for eight on the card's third turn in play! Because of this, History of Benalia can both burst forward offensively and slow the opponent down with multiple blockers defensively.
This is Lingering Souls:
Lingering Souls is a card of extraordinary power. It was banned in its original Block Constructed format, and has contributed to any number of decks across multiple formats. Not Block of course, but other formats. Jon Finkel played it to his umpteenth Pro Tour Top 8 in an Esper Delver deck. It has contributed to everything from a white splash in Jund to a colorful wink in Eldrazi Modern decks.
Like History of Benalia, Lingering Souls produces two power for your initial three mana investment. To get the next two power, you need to invest an additional two mana (and in another color).
Certainly, Lingering Souls has some considerable upside relative to History of Benalia. You get more bodies. Those bodies in fact fly. You can get all four on on turn if you have five mana available... But that's the crux of it; with History of Benalia, you never need to pay the additional two mana!
This is Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage:
Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage
Raff Capashen, Ship's Mage really likes Historic cards.
"Saga" is a Historic type; consequently, Raff likes History of Benalia.
One of the many synergies that you can exploit thanks to Dominaria's heavily Historic themes is to play History of Benalia during times that you couldn't normally play an enchantment or other sorcery-speed card (e.g. Lingering Souls).
History of Benalia has already started showing up in a variety of decks. It is going to be a great card in Historic-themed decks, white swarm decks (or B/W Tokens decks), and will be a consideration for everything from G/W Aggro to U/W Control.
Someone should write a song about how good this card is.
But for now, please settle for this podcast.
Thu, 26 April 2018
Will Lich's Mastery be THE ONLY viable strategy in Standard?
This card is poised to completely warp Standard! It is a draw engine of unprecedented power. Imagine for a moment you were playing a big format and ran Lich's Mastery alongside Nourishing Shoal... The ability to draw cards with little to no incremental mana investment (after the initial six mana investment, of course) is unprecedented!
This Legendary Enchantment has no such limitations.
Lich's Mastery + Gideon of the Trials
White is a natural pair to Lich's Mastery in Standard. Renewed Faith is one of the most obvious best buddies. It cycles to help you hit land drops early. Later on, you can draw six -- count 'em six -- extra cards for just one card!
Fumigate is also an awesome addition. The ability to gain one life per creature killed takes on new meaning when each of those creatures represents even more card advantage.
But what about Gideon of the Trials?
Is there a particular synergy with this Planeswalker that can also prevent you from losing the game? Yes!
Not only does Gideon rumble (giving your combo-control deck a way to win) but it can protect you from losing the game by losing your Lich's Mastery. Further, it gives you a redundant synergy with Glorious End.
Any two of the three -- Lich's Mastery, Gideon of the Trials, and Glorious End -- are great together!
Lich's Mastery + Glorious End
Glorious End + Gideon of the Trials was a combo that never quite hit in Standard. Is it awesome? Probably... But it never quite hit.
What happens when you add a third leg to the stool?
What happens when that third leg has hexproof?
Glorious End is just awesome with Lich's Mastery. Can you just Time Walk your opponent with Lich's Mastery in play? Sure. You can also Fog them, Counterspell them, and generally laugh at them from behind your Legendary Enchantment while they expend resources.
But did you ever think about this?
Cast Glorious End on their Turn Five. Maybe on their upkeep?
Untap and play the Lich's Mastery in your hand!
What if you don't have a Lich's Mastery in your hand... yet? The planned End-Mastery play is a big game, but what might be even more fun is the desperate Glorious End-into-praying-to-draw-Lich's-Mastery. All part of the range.
All Kinds of Lich's Mastery Decks
In this episode of Top Level Podcast, Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores discuss all manner of builds around and including this seductive six drop.
Black-White, Mardu, and even straight black takes are on the table.
Gifted Aetherborn? Creatureless? A couple of big guys? A ton of lifelinking Knights? Give this one a listen and figure out how you want your BBB3 to go in the coming months.
Fri, 20 April 2018
Tempest Djinn is one of blue's signature cards from Dominaria
Tempest Djinn is Much Stronger Than Serendib Efreet (in the right deck)
Despite its initial appearance, Serendib Efreet was a blue card.
A good place to think about this most respected of Djinn is the Revised misprint, Serendib Efreet. Serendib Efreet was a 3/4 flying creature for U2 (blue, despite the card frame)... With a drawback!
Serendib Efreet saw play in a variety of decks, and fast multicolored aggressive mages would often dip into blue to play it. Again, despite the self-inflicted damage.
Dominaria's Djinn is much harder to cast, sure. That is a lot of blue pips in the top-right!
But, the payoff is also much greater. In a deck with, say, twenty-five Islands, Tempest Djinn's floor is a Serendib Efreet with no drawback. Each and every incremental Island will make it a faster and faster racer.
Tempest Djinn is Like the World's Greatest Rishadan Airship (in the right deck)
Unlike Rishadan Airship, Tempest Djinn can block
In its era, Rishadan Airship was one of the most important creatures played in the Blue Skies archetype.
Rishadan Airship was not great in very many other decks; it could not block consistently, and even when it could block, it would probably die. But offense-wise? Blue Skies was one of the best decks in Masques Block Constructed + was a favorite of some of the best Hall of Famers in Standard.
Tempest Djinn is like a more flexible Rishadan Airship. Again assuming an Islands-heavy (if not Islands-only) mana base, Tempest Djinn presents the same offense as Rishadan Airship -- at least -- but can also block. Not only that: It can block and often survive!
This flexibility is one of the most important aspects of Tempest Djinn. You can tap out for it on turn three, Skies-style to race... Or you can tap out for it on turn three to block a Red Deck's 3/2 attackers.
Or -- get this -- you can tap out for Tempest Djinn, block... And then back over itself (and generally for four damage).
Tempest Djinn will Redefine Blue in Standard
Patrick made a deck.
Mike is wild about it.
Check out how our intrepid duo thinks Tempest Djinn will be played in Standard right here!
Thu, 5 April 2018
Shalai, Voice of Plenty is a 3/4 Flyer
A 3/4 flyer for four mana is probably not good enough on its own.
That said, there have been highly successful 3/4 flyers -- Angels even -- in the not-so-distant past. All it takes is one good ability and that 3/4 flyer can jump all the way to Staple.
To wit, Restoration Angel:
Like Shalai, Restoration Angel was a 3/4 flying Angel for only four mana. It ended up dominating Standard thanks to synergy with Thragtusk. Restoration Angel was also great at sliding into the Red Zone thanks to end of turn Flash, after a control deck had tapped for main-phase sweepers.
While Restoration Angel was mostly a Standard card (again due to its extraordinary synergy with Thragtusk), it has seen play in larger formats like Modern, often playing with Kitchen Finks or Flickerwisp.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty Turns off Shock
Remember what we said a second ago about just one good ability?
Well Shalai, Voice of Plenty has more than one! Mike focuses on this ability (while Patrick largely focuses on the other). There are many implications to giving not only you but basically everything else on your side of the table hexproof, but one of the coolest is that it turns off Shock.
Or in Modern, it turns off Lightning Bolt.
You can't be the target of the Shock. None of your other creatures can be the target of the Shock. In fact, the Shock can basically only target Shalai. That means, until the bad guys have a second Shock, that first Shock isn't going to be very shocking at all.
What's more, given Shalai's second ability, you can pull it out of even double Shock range with one green activation.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty in Modern
Shalai's "Hexproof" ability is powerful in Modern.
Because Modern has cards like Aether Vial and especially Chord of Calling, the ability to drop Shalai at instant speed adds a powerful dimension.
Current G/W decks, for instance, can slot in [at least one copy of] Shalai as a silver bullet. You can respond to, say, twenty copies of Grapeshot, spoiling the opponent's combo finish.
Even more interestingly, though, Shalai can fill the role of Ezuri, Renegade Leader or Walking Ballista. Shalai is much, much, better than Walking Ballista as a Chord of Calling target, as the latter is generally an inappropriate target.
G/W decks that can generate "infinite" mana will often use Walking Ballista as an endgame finisher. They make a ton of mana, and can kill however. Shuri might be an alternative. Infinite power from multiple creatures, rather than infinite one-point pings, might be slightly inferior (you need some attackers, you need them to be able to get through, you need a combat phase)... But if you are already playing 1-4 copies of Shuri for the hexproof ability, gaining Chord of Calling efficiency while saving a card slot or two might make sense.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty in Standard
Without a doubt, Shalai, Voice of Plenty is going to shine in Standard.
The one-two (rather four-five) punch with Lyra Dawnbringer is just too sweet.
If you untap with Shalai, you can follow up with Lyra and swing for four. Four lifelink (not just three damage) while leaving a plausible defender.
In some cases just tapping out for an awesome Angel might make sense... But it can still die. In this case, Lyra Dawnbringer will gain hexproof. So good luck getting through a flying, first strike, lifelink, and hexproof defender. Lyra will gobble up Glorybringer without even a scratch. It's not like you can kill it with conventional removal.
It is at least arguable that Shalai's third ability will be even more potent in Standard than Modern (infinite possibilities notwithstanding). This ability is highly comparable to Gavony Township.
The deck where you play Shalai is likely going to be G/W. You might have some late-game Llanowar Elves. This ability turns Elves into killers.
But it also turns killers into more vicious killers. Just pulling Shalai and Lyra into the 6+ toughness range is going to be yuge. (They themselves will be yuge.) Shalai might not give itself hexproof, but massive toughness simply means it's tough to kill.
This week's podcast clocks in at nearly an hour and a half.
Shalai, Voice of Plenty is just the first Dominaria card we discuss.
Thu, 29 March 2018
I think you'd be surprised by how much is going on with Danitha Capashen, Paragon.
Danitha Capashen, Pearled Unicorn
Pearled Unicorn? Creatures have gotten better in the last twenty-five years, it seems.
So... a 2/2 creature for three mana? Pearled Unicorn much?
Why would we even want to talk about Danitha? Isn't she just a 2/2 for three mana?
While few players are excited by the prospect of a 2/2 creature for three mana, there is some precedent. Mike, for example, really loves a Borderland Ranger!
But let's assume you're not searching your library for a basic land... Is it possible that you can stick enough additional abilities onto a 2/2 creature for three mana that someone would want to play it?
That is the challenge of Danitha Capashen.
First Strike is only okay, but first strike and lifelink make Danitha a surprisingly potent combat creature. Vigilence and lifelink together make her defensively solid.
But wait! There's more...
Danitha Capashen, Paragon is surprisingly resilient
How is a 2/2 creature resilient?
Is there a hexproof line we somehow missed?
Danitha Capashen, Paragon is contextually resilient. We've already seen Seal Away, a white enchantment that hits tapped creatures. Well due to vigilance, Danitha doesn't tap.
But what about this?
Cast Down destroys nonlegendary creatures.
Danitha is Legendary!
Basically, we have a situation where two of the most popular point removal cards in Standard will simply not be able to target Danitha Capashen, Paragon. Is she invincible? No. But you don't pay a single mana for this additional ability of resilience.
Danitha Capashen, Engine
We have no idea what "Aura and Equipment spells you cast cost 1 less to cast" will actually mean.
But we've seen the card Goblin Warchief.
Cost reduction abilities like this can be format-defining.
Topics Other than Danitha Capashen, Paragon
There are many. Many!
But the most important is probably the sick new Legacy deck that Patrick brews, live. Will it be the hot new strategy? Sure sounds like a consistent turn-three kill to us.
Check it out!
Fri, 23 March 2018
Knight of Grace is a great example of Dominaria's "Time Spiral" Theme
Dominaria: It's Like Time Spiral Junior
One of the things Patrick and Michael like about Dominaria so far is how it pleasantly references what we love about Magic's past. Cards like Llanowar Elves and Gaea's Blessing aside, Dominaria calls up our favorite worlds, from Benalia to Phyrexia, to tell the set's story.
It's not just reprints. It's not just references. Dominaria also updates some favorites! There may be no better example than Knight of Grace.
Knight of Grace: White Knight 2018
White Knight and Black Knight were two of the most iconic creatures in early Magic.
Not only were they each hyper-efficient, they were each "first" ... Each Block would add a variation. Order of the Ebon Hand; Order of Leitbur. Order of the White Shield... All the way, eventually, to Knight of Meadowgrain and even more recent updates.
The most recent? Knight of Grace and its opposite number, Knight of Malice.
What's going on with Knight of Grace?
The buff ability here works a couple of ways. If this were way back in 1996, enough players might have black creatures that the +1/+0 might be meaningful.
But you can cheat this ability on yourself, if you're a little mindful.
A B/W creature deck can already enjoy the buff.
But what about off-color cards that you can play without increasing the number of colors...
There are more, of course.
To find out more, and which, download the podcast!
Thu, 15 March 2018
In Dominaria, Wizards Matter
Here are the first ten Modern Staples -- of the top of our heads -- that happen to be Wizards:
There are more! Tons more! Those are just the first few we thought of.
Why does this matter? The Dominaria set has a number of cards whose performance improves if you have a wizard on the battlefield. Examples: Wizard's Retort and Wizard's Lightning
Put another way, Wizard's Retort is a Cancel… But a Counterspell if you have a wizard on the battlefield.
Longtime listeners probably remember that Mike had some success with another card that was Counterspell if he had a particular creature type: Silumgar’s Scorn. With creatures as good as Grim Lavamancer and Snapcaster Mage being wizards, there may just be ample opportunity to cash in on Wizard's Lightning
There is already precedent to playing three damage burn spells that sometimes cost one and sometimes cost three in both Modern and Legacy. Rift Bolt much?
Being three converted mana cost is actually an advantage sometimes; Chalice of the Void anyone? Grim Lavamancer is already a wizard you might play in either format’s Burn deck!
Mike, at the least, would much rather run one or two copies of this card than, say, Shard Volley.
Dominaria brings us a new Baneslayer Angel
Is this card better than the [multiple] Pro Tour-winning Baneslayer Angel?
Patrick points out that giving other Angels +1/+1 -- and lifelink -- is way better, generally speaking, than protection from demons and dragons. Having a Lyra Dawnbringer in play with a Baneslayer Angel is much better than having two Baneslayer Angels, at least.
In Dominaria, It’s Actually Pretty Easy to be Green
What was Mike talking about? Oldies -- and goodies -- Gaea's Blessing and Llanowar Elves are two of the reprints that the Resident Genius has his eyes on. To wit:
Gaea’s Blessing - According to onetime Lead Developer Brian Schneider, "There’s no reason you should need any other way to win."
… And that’s just the first third of this podcast!
Sagas, Legendary Sorceries, and rules changes await! Check it out now:
Thu, 1 March 2018
Courser of Kruphix. Swoon.
Courser of Kruphix was a centerpiece of Patrick's Pro Tour Journey Into Nyx-winning Abzan* deck. This three drop is already a fringe player in Modern. Our prediction is that it becomes even more popular.
Courser of Kruphix is of efficient size for its casting cost.
2/4 for three mana is deceptively great in-context. Courser of Krupix is too big to kill with a lone Lightning Bolt. In this podcast, Mike shares a story of being forced to run his fellow enchantment creature Eidolon of the Great Revel into an opposing Courser of Kruphix and blowing a Bolt to finish it off. But resistance to opposing removal isn't the only story told by this defining creature...
Courser of Kruphix is great with Bloodbraid Elf
First of all, Courser of Kruphix is the exact right casting cost to max out Bloodbraid Elf's Cascade ability. When you flip a Noble Hierarch, you get two cards -- essentially a Lotus Petal plus the Hierarch itself -- but when you flip a Courser of Kruphix, that Lotus Petal is upgraded to a Black Lotus. So great!
But that's not all... Courser of Krupix is good before Bloodbraid Elf, not just being flipped by Bloodbraid Elf. The ability to see the top card of your library can be useful when you play interactive cards. For example, Bloodbraid Elf decks often play cards like Path to Exile or Terminate. If the opponent doesn't have a creature on the battlefield, flipping one of those with cascade will result in a wasted trigger. Courser of Kruphix can help you aim your cascades a little bit better.
Courser of Kruphix is and "Better than All"
As a three drop with solid toughness, Courser of Kruphix is an efficient pre-Jace, the Mind Sculptor play. It can defend Jace well on the turn you tap out for it. But that's not all! Courser of Kruphix's ability to see the top card of your library (and play lands from it) is delicious when combined with Jace's Fateseal and Brainstorm abilities. You can fix your hand by putting a land on top with Jace, and then play it with Courser. Or you can dig deeper (with either) to get a fresh look (for either).
This card from Masters 25 will surely go up in popularity.
Also Revealed: Coalition Relic
With the ability to tap for any color of mana, Coalition Relic once held a special place as a five-color control enabler. It was also a solid accelerator, taking you from three to six in a single turn!
Patrick and Michael are cooler on this preview than Courser of Kruphix, though.
There are just too many cards people play in Modern that beat up on Coalition Relic (often with value): Kolaghan's Command, Abrupt Decay, and certainly Ancient Grudge! The Lantern deck's performance in Modern recently has jut put too much of a target on artifacts, at least artifacts of this casting cost.
Still, was sweet in its time, and may yet be sweet again if and when the format shifts.
Check out our Exclusive Masters 25 Previews Podcast here!
* Abzan before it was "Abzan" if you grok.
Thu, 11 January 2018
Sanctum of the Sun is really -- really -- powerful
Azor's Gateway Transforms into Sanctum of the Sun
Azor's Gateway -- the front side of today's Legendary Land -- is itself a pretty good card. It is both cheaper than Jalum Tome, and cheaper to use (believe it or not Jalum Tome was once a Role Player-level Standard card).
Yes, it sucks that Azor's Gateway exiles cards instead of simply discarding them to the graveyard, but (and you'll probably figure this out in a couple of sentences) that would simply be too powerful once you've flipped the Legendary Artifact into Legendary Land.
Remember - zeroes are close to free, due to land cards.
Cut // Ribbons is Best Buddies with Sanctum of the Sun
When you flip Azor's Gateway into its final form, you gain five life and have an insane mana engine. Your expectation will almost never be less than an immediate burst of six mana of any color, no matter what hoops you had to jump through to get there.
Imagine you simply have the same life total as your opponent when Azor's Gateway flips...
Aren't they basically dead if you have Cut // Ribbons in your graveyard? If you have, say, twenty life (and the opponent has twenty life) you will go to twenty-five. You can immediately untap Azor's Gateway and tap its opposite number for twenty-five black mana, even if there are no other sources of black in your deck. This nets out to twenty-three life from Ribbons! Boom!
The Cut side of Cut // Ribbons has long been a Role Player-level option. It looks like this card -- which is highly serviceable as a fast reactive card -- may jump colossally in value now that getting it into the graveyard basically kills the opponent.
Remember a moment ago when we were lamenting the exile v. discard limitation on Azor's Gateway? Can you imagine how disastrous simple discarding would be given the incentive of getting Ribbons into your graveyard? This is already a great combination! They can't make it too easy, can they?
Cut // Ribbons acts like a two but is technically a four; that makes it fast enough to defend you front-side, while essentially ensuring victory later. Best. Buddies.
What About Untapping Sanctum of the Sun?
This Legendary Land is already pregnant with possibilities... But what if you can actually untap it?
In "Chasing Sanctum of the Sun" Patrick argues passionately for the power level of Zacama, Primal Calamity. This Elder Dinosaur might be the payoff that Ramp decks have been looking for since the rotation of the Eldrazi cards. While Zacama doesn't have a built-in durability, it can destroy many different kinds of permanents, as well as generate a massive life buffer. The fact that Zacama has CMC 9 is awesome with Azor's Gateway... I mean, how many nines do you think you can possibly play? It both drives diversity of casting cost for purposes of flipping and gives you an outlet to discard redundant uncastable giants.
Fri, 5 January 2018
Our further Rivals of Ixalan review begins with Jadelight Ranger
If there is one thing Mike is famous for, it's playing some goofball green three drops over the years.
Gnarled Mass is one such green creature; but at 3/3 for three mana -- and essentially no other capabilities it is a head scratcher that someone would be able to win with it. The secret, of course, is that Gnarled Mass was never "good" per se. But a 3/3 for three mana could slow down an opposing 2/2 Bushido.
Ditto on Borderland Ranger. And by "Borderland Ranger" we mean Civic Wayfinder. So deep was Mike's love of three mana creatures that could search up a land, when he won with U/R Splinter Twin, he did so with a Pilgrim's Eye in his main.
But what about the belle of this week's ball?
How does Jadelight Ranger compare?
Jadelight Ranger versus Gnarled Mass
Jadelight Ranger seems like a generally stronger card than Gnarled Mass.
Gnarled Mass was a Spirit -- which was good, but could also be a liability in Kamigawa Block -- but was basically always a 3/3 for three mana.
If you're going for size, Jadelight Ranger can be a 4/3 (2/1 with two +1/+1 counters) for the same casting cost. The superior size (sometimes) comes with two Scry triggers! So... Secelction as well as size.
Obvious point: If you want to have a large Jadelight Ranger, and you are lucky enough to "miss" on your first trigger, you can just leave the card on top, guaranteeing you will grow on the second trigger as well.
Jadelight Ranger versus Borderland Ranger
Borderland Ranger has a couple of advantages over Jadelight Ranger.
For one, 2G is easier to cast than 1GG... But not so much easier.
Borderland Ranger also offers true selection. If you have one Island in your library, you can go find it every single time rather than waiting for your White Knight. Jadelight Ranger lacks that level of precision.... lacks this certainty. But it makes up with sheer potential card advantage.
Just as Jadelight Ranger can be bigger than Gnarled Mass sometimes, it can produce more lands than Borderland Ranger sometimes, too! Instead of just one land, it can draw more than one. Compare to: Divination.
Jadelight Ranger versus Rogue Refiner
So sometimes Jadelight Ranger is a 4/3. If you have a Winding Constrictor in play, that might actually jump to, say, 6/5.
And sometimes, it stays 2/1 but draws two lands.
In both cases, you get to scry twice, which is powerful.
But in the middle? It is just a 3/2 that draws you one additional land.
You know what we call a 3/2 creature that produces one extra card? Rogue Refiner.
And while Jadelight Ranger is probably not "better" than Rogue Refiner (less control on size, never draws into a spell, doesn't make energy) even being in the same conversation with one of the best creatures in Standard is significant.
This Merfolk Scout is only the first card we discuss!
More Rivals of Ixalan than you can shake a stick at, right here.