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.
Thu, 4 January 2018
Dire Fleet Poisoner is our exclusive Rivals of Ixalan preview!
Dire Fleet Poisoner is Incredibly Flexible
A 2/2 Deathtouch creature for only two mana, Dire Fleet Poisoner can play Terror in a pinch.
Much like Go for the Throat, Doom Blade, and the Alpha classic, this card can trade for most creatures at instant speed for just two mana.
Drop Dire Fleet Poisoner during combat and block... And you can trade with just about anything one-for-one. Even creatures that can sometimes dodge one-for-one removal (like Bristling Hydra) can't plead hexproof here... A block will make for a trade, no matter how big the attacker.
Of course, as a 2/2 creature, this Human Pirate can kill 1/x creatures (no matter how tough) and live to tell the tale.
Flash and Deathtouch, go!
Dire Fleet Poisoner's Brilliant Buff
Dire Fleet Poisoner can crash on curve... Imagine you play a first turn Daring Buccaneer. You attack with it and the opponent tosses a Shock at your 2/2.
This card can save your creature while forcing home additional damage.
It can save an attacking Hostage Taker from Abrade, for instance.
It can also help you into favorable trades. For instance, if you are attacking with Kari Zev and the opponent is forced to double block (say, due to menace), the ability to provide both a second point of power and deathtouch can make for an advantageous trade.
... And you get to keep the 2/2 deathtouch body!
Dire Fleet Poisoner is Fast and Flexible
Will there be B/R Pirates? Chances are, this card will help drive the creature choices.
How about B/U? Hostage Taker is a heck of a Pirate.
Want to know more? Check out the podcast!
Fri, 22 December 2017
Vona's Hunger continues the proud tradition of "Diabolic Edict with upside" for three mana
Vona's Hunger as Instant Edict
Diabolic Edict was the first.
It was like a Cruel Edict but better.
Over time we got a variety of three casting cost versions... Foul-Tongue Invocation, Tribute to Hunger, and Oath of Liliana are all three casting cost upgrades to the Edict model (whether instant or sorcery speed). All of them offered a little something extra -- whether life gain or more card advantage -- in exchange for a third mana.
Vona's Hunger can line up almost unprecedented card advantage provided you have the city's blessing.
And the rest of the time? More Edict action for group games ;)
New Keyword: "Ascend" on Vona's Hunger
This instant has a cool new keyword. If you control ten or more permanents, you get something called "the city's blessing" for the rest of the game. Presumably, you can have ten permanents the first time... But if you go below ten permanents upon casting a second Vona's Hunger, you'll still have the city's blessing.
Presumably there will be more cards featuring these new terms; whether you ascend the same way (having ten or more permanents) on all of them is still a mystery.
When would Vona's Hunger like the city's blessing?
It isn't difficult to imagine a time you might want Vona's Hunger on three. For example, any time the opponent is trucking in with a lone Bristling Hydra, you might want a removal card that can kill it no matter how big, no matter how hexproof.
Any time the opponent is protecting a key threat -- say an Electrostatic Pummeler - with Blossoming Defense backup, Vona's Hunger might be the card you want.
But what about the big version? Who can take advantage of it, and when might they want to?
We haven't seen tokens in a while, but the Anointed Procession decks are probably the most consistent at producing 10+ permanents. It's difficult to evaluate the "big" version of this card. It's kind of half a Wrath of God, but also asymmetrical (meaning it does not kill any of your creatures... Just half of the other guy's).
You know when tokens might really, really want Vona's Hunger?
More info here:
Thu, 7 December 2017
Rivals of Ixalan Brings a New Vraska
Vraska, Scheming Gorgon
A new Vraska? Yes.
A very good Vraska? The Scheming Gorgon is going to have a tough time competing with the Relic Seeker in Standard.
Seemingly the only advantage Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has over Vraska, Relic Seeker is in being mono-black. Vraska Scheming Gorgon’s best ability is her [-3] to destroy target creature…
This ability is woefully weaker than Vraska, Relic Seeker’s more flexible equivalent… That also produces Treasure.
Vraska, Scheming Gorgon has a potentially powerful [-10] ultimate ability… At least until you think about it for a minute. While this ability can theoretically win the game, practically speaking, you already have to have a substantial advantage to cash in.
You need to have gained loyalty for several turns without losing all your creatures.
You need to have more creatures than the opponent has creatures AND creature removal.
But if you can fulfill these conditions? Sure. Win the game.
Vraska and Angrath: Are They Rivals of Ixalan?
Angrath, Minotaur Pirate
While Angrath may not be the strongest Planeswalker in Standard, Mike thinks it is a straight-up upgrade relative to Vraska, Scheming Gorgon.
For one, Mike could at least imagine using the [+2] ability, and can imagine wanting to play this card to do so!
Say you are up against Mono-White Vampires or B/W Tokens. Wouldn’t you appreciate a recurring way to deal one damage to everything and everyone on the other side of the table? While gaining loyalty?
Mike is pretty “sign me up” for this as a sideboard card, but Patrick not only reserves ultimate judgment for now… He says that if Mike likes this card, he’ll probably LOVE the main set equivalent its existence implies.
Nitpick point: Angrath claims to be a Minotaur PIRATE (even says so in the name) but could not theoretically target itself with that [-3].
The Primal Command of Rivals of Ixalan?
One of the cool features of the beginner Planeswalker decks is the existence of a Tutor to go find a deck’s centerpiece character.
Mike doesn’t hate this one:
Mike compares it to Primal Command.
Is hie crazy?
Both cards cost five. Both cards affect life total and do multiple things; Primal Command often attacked a land; Angrath’s Fury basically always kills a creature.
Okay, okay: Crazy
Patrick and Mike also chat decks past and present, and visit a successful Standard deck… That eschews Longtusk Cub despite running Attune with Aether.
Fri, 24 November 2017
Tetzimoc, Primal Death is a Legendary Creature - Elder Dinosaur
Tetzimoc, Primal Death Invalidates "real" cards
This Legendary Creature - Elder Dinosaur almost doesn't seem real.
Will there be efficient ways to get rid of prey counters? If not, Tetzimoc is going to act as a Plague Wind -- a one-way Wrath of God -- quite often.
What is the low end of Tetzimoc's performance? Double Nekrataal? Just a couple of life points off of Noxious Gearhulk? It seems really powerful either way.
In any case, Tetzimoc leaves a large body with deathtouch on the battlefield. It provides not just a high potential for card advantage, but advances your board at the same time.
It is conceivable, unfortunately, that Tetzimoc will not be good. How could that be?
This creature is great against regular creatures, if even very good, efficient, or huge versions. It would be much less effective in a format based on Energy 187 creatures like Rogue Refiner, nothing but haste, or combo decks.
Tetzimoc is not the only Elder Dinosaur...
If you are unsure of the most broken thing you can possibly do with Ghalta, Primal Hunger, what about just starting on a Regisaur Alpha? That costs five mana and puts seven power in play. Seven down leaves Ghalta eminently cast-able.
Imagine this with haste!
On the one hand, Ghalta, Primal Hunger is an exceptional reason for Dinosaurs to finally graduate to Tier One in Standard.
But not for nothing... Decks based around the Primal Hunger are going to get their lunch eaten by decks based on the Primal Death, if you grok.
But Wait, There's More!
This week we hit all five currently spoiled Rivals of Ixalan cards, not just the Dinosaurs.
Ever wanted to learn about the nuances between personal Mana Flare and personal Howling Mine? Check out "Tetzimoc, Primal Death and the Rivals of Ixalan" right now!
Thu, 16 November 2017
Did you see this earlier this week?
If you did -- this podcast will be the realization of all you've been waiting for!
If you didn't... Why aren't you following the Top Level Podcast Instagram yet? Go ahead. We'll wait up.
It's time for our...
Exclusive Preview: Very Cryptic Command!
It's Kind of Like a Cryptic Command
The "Very" variety is reminiscent of the classic in many ways.
But in terms of game play? This is a whole other instant!
Well that's one way to do it...
Isn't it weird that an Un-set card -- ostensibly built for fun rather than Spikes -- is primarily geared towards making:
If you have two copies of Gilded Lotus and two copies of this instant you can tap for UUUUUU, cast Very Cryptic Command to untap the artifacts and re-buy your other Very Cryptic Command.
Then you can do this all you want, over and over again.
Welcome to having as much mana as you want! Eventually, you can use one of the other modes to do anything else, move ahead (and presumably take advantage of your limitless mana and storm count).
Fun... For you, at least!
Our thoughts on this most Unstable of Unstable cards in "Very Cryptic Command"
Thu, 28 September 2017
What Can We Learn from Pious Interdiction?
Often competitive players will look at a card like Pious Interdiction -- which has what might be a desirable effect if at a hefty cost -- and discard it out of hand.
But when was the last time you asked yourself what drove that kind of thinking? Are there contexts where you would want a card like this? If so, when?
Mike -- winner of his Midnight Prerelease -- can certainly point to a time!
Pious Interdiction can be a heck of a Limited card
That's right! Pious Interdiction can certainly get it done in forty card decks!
... That's actually how Patrick and Mike got into the discussion this week! Mike was lucky enough to open four copies of Pious Interdiction, and they did such a great job of nullifying his opponents' key flyers or fat green creatures he was almost ready to sign up for Pious Interdiction in Constructed.
The problem -- part of the problem anyway -- with Pious Interdiction is just the cost.
The cost is both the "right answer" and too simple of an answer, though. While this aura is great at interacting with threats like Sealed Deck where so many of an opponent's cards will be more expensive than in Standard, four mana can be a big ask in sixty card decks.
Patrick is quick to caution that general rules about how much things "should" cost for certain effects can be foolhardy. We must always be mindful of context.
Pious Interdiction v. the World
For the current Standard, at least, Pious Interdiction has plenty of context around it, helping to define is viability (or non-viability).
Cast Out also costs four mana, but has so much flexibility around Flash, Cycling, and the option to exile non-creature permanents. For that matter, Cast Out does a much better job, generally, of interacting with creatures! Cast Out isn't always better for four mana, as there are times you will want to gain two life... But it's usually better.
If you're really in the market for an overcosted Pacifism that gains life, might we suggest a Desert's Hold?
Desert's Hold doesn't let you get away with deck building free or anything... You have to build your deck with Deserts -- and you have to have Deserts either in play or in the graveyard to get the bonus -- but it both costs less mana and gains more life than Pious Interdiction. Yet Desert's Hold is far from a popular Constructed card.
Join Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Michael J Flores in this eye-opening theoretical discussion, plus more -- much more -- actual Constructed quality cards from Ixalan in this week's episode!
Fri, 22 September 2017
Vance's Blasting Cannons: The Final Flip
Last week, when gushing over flip cards like Search for Azcanta, we hadn't yet had the opportunity to see the red member of the cycle.
Unlike a certain blue transformer for two, this card is a bit controversial. Where, if anywhere, would you want to play it? Would a red aggressive deck ever want to run it over either an indestructible god or a Rowdy Crew?
"Well," Mike points out, "at least the flip condition is a 'may'" ...
Outpost Siege v. Vance's Blasting Cannons
Is Outpost Siege where we set the bar?
The most obvious point of comparison for this new card is Outpost Siege.
For its part, Outpost Siege served every role from "main-deck four-of in R/W aggro" to "sideboard role player competing with its day's Chandra at the four". Regardless of how you want to slice it, Outpost Siege was a stronger card than Vance's Blasting Cannons (at least the front side).
But the bar isn't whether this is better or worse than Outpost Siege in the abstract; the front-side is pretty much worse. The question is if it is good enough to play anyway.
And we can't answer that question without addressing...
Vance's Blasting Cannons // Spitfire Bastion
Is the payoff on Spitfire Bastion worth the work?
While Mike wouldn't play such a conjectural card (probably), it is useful to think of the final flip as potentially three different cards:
Spitfire Bastion is a source of inevitability, not unlike fellow land Ramanup Ruins. Decks like U/R Control, for example, can't allow this to flip, because no matter how well they close out on creatures, they will likely lose the game three life points at a time.
Mike -- ever fearful of Kor Firewalker -- points out that as a colorless source of damage, Spitfire Bastion can kill the hell out of Protection from Red creatures.
So what do you think about this last transformer? The Top Level Podcast boys revisit some of the others and a whole mess of Ixalan cards in this week's episode.
This week's episode of the Top Level Podcast is brought to you by Mack Weldon. For 20% off your order, visit http://www.mackweldon.com and use the promo code toplevel
Fri, 15 September 2017
This week MichaelJ is flipping out over flip cards! First among them? The Search for Azcanta!
Check Out Search for Azcanta:
We'll come out and say it to begin with: Search for Azcanta is probably undercosted. There have been effects like this in the past, but they didn't cost two mana.
The front side of this card offers powerful library manipulation. Sure. It sets up the top of your deck. But that's not all! Search for Azcanta not only pushes aside clunky or expensive spells, it sets up graveyard synergies!
This card is great with flashback, eternalize, or Renegade Rallier.
Subtly, the "flip" ability is a may, not a must. While you will usually want to be flipping it, there are times that Search for Azcanta will be better for you than Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin. Don't worry: You get to pick.
Search for Azcanta Becomes Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin
Two things on this one:
First of all, it's a kind of weird Rampant Growth. If you have Search for Azcanta on the battlefield and say four lands... When it flips, you will have five or six mana (depending on land drop). That, in and of itself, is a pretty big get for blue.
Of course, Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin is actually just awesome once you get it online. Getting a de facto Impulse every turn will put you way ahead in grinding matchups, and will threaten to bury the opponent in card advantage.
Further, this card is just begging for you to cheat! No, not "cheat" in the sense of getting banned from DCI sanctioned tournaments... Cheating the flip condition. While the front-side enchantment will get you to the point where it will flip eventually, there is no reason to wait around. Cards like Strategic Planning are screaming to help you flip to the legendary land.
Both sides of this card seem like they will be awesome in Approach of the Second Sun decks. Either side will help dig you to your second Approach.
But Wait! There's More!
While Search for Azcanta has our boys the most excited, there are tons of other flip cards worth talking about. We love Legions Landing, generally dislike Arguel's Blood Fast. But where and when will even that be played?
Gotta check out the podcast, to find out!