Thu, 16 November 2017
Sand Strangler Graduates to Main Deck!
Stephen King said it.
William Faulkner said it first.
Kill. Your. Darlings.
Which darlings, you ask.
How about the automatic three-of (if not four-of) at the Ramunap Red four? Hazoret the Fervent.
Cut Hazoret? Are you crazy?
Hazoret the Fervent versus Whirler Virtuoso
As a red mage, have you ever faced off against Whirler Virtuoso? If you haven't, it sucks. It's just really hard to bust through, even though you have one of the best offensive threats in the format.
Now imagine -- assuming sufficient Desert power -- Sand Strangler against Whirler Virtuoso.
Smoosh, right? Smoosh.
When essentially half of the format is Energy decks, Sand Strangler over Hazoret main deck starts to make more sense.
Pro Tour Hall of Famer Ben Stark executed on exactly this plan, finishing in the finals of Grand Prix Atlanta with a new look at Ramunap Ruins.
Wait a minute! Don't I just suck in the mirror now?
While cutting Hazoret -- one of the most important cards in the mirror match -- certainly costs you percentage in the mirror, Ben counterbalanced with the duo of Sand Strangler and Glorybringer.
Remember: Sand Strangler and Glorybringer are two of the most frequently sided in cards in Red Deck mirrors.
So while you lose some Hazoret points, you get back some "free" sideboard creature points.
... And it's not like Ben's deck can't side in a bunch of Hazorets after boards.
But mathematically? There is more Energy than Red right now. Ben's metagaming was simply masterful.
New Decks Aplenty
Desert Red was cool, but it wasn't alone.
This week Patrick and Mike tackle such instant classics as:
Check out "Masterfully Metagaming Sand Strangler" and you too may just become a metagame master!
Fri, 10 November 2017
Meet River's Rebuke: Mirror-Breaker
Have you ever played the Temur Energy mirror match? And by "Temur" Energy we would include Four-color Energy and its cousins. The archetype is so good at brick walling itself.
Everyone has plenty of material. Attune with Aether, Rogue Refiner, and Planeswalkers can help develop resources. The Scarab God gives you something to do with your long-term land. It can bust through opposing defenses over time, and from multiple directions. Glorybringer -- especially in multiples -- combines evasion with card advantage. And Planeswalker-slaying!
But yet, Whirler Virtuoso is so good at keeping damage at bay!
How are you supposed to bust through?
May we suggest River's Rebuke?
River's Rebuke: Next Level Sideboarding
Here's the thing about River's Rebuke.
It's a sorcery.
Who sides in Negate against Temur Energy? You know, the deck with 21-25 creatures? Would you side in Negate? What do you plan to Negate? A giant Vehicle? You've already got Abrade for that.
It sits in your sideboard.
Meanwhile, you and your opponent accumulate more and more material, brick walling one another until...
Somebody Casts River's Rebuke
Here's the other thing about River's Rebuke. It's one-sided. Many times when you cast it, the game will be over that turn. You know all that Whirler Virtuoso brick walling? Ain't no one home to defend. Even The Scarab God is going to fail in the face of River's Rebuke.
Two members of the Pro Tour Ixalan Top 8 -- Christian Hauk and Piotr Glogowski -- ran it last weekend.
Temur Wasn't Even the "Good" Energy Deck
Sultai Energy in the hands of former World Champion Seth Manfield reigned supreme. The trickiest of the Energy decks, Sultai has a two-card combo of Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense that few decks want to tussle with.
Learn more about Temur, Sultai, and the entire PT Ixalan Top 8 in "Energizing River's Rebuke" now!
Fri, 3 November 2017
Approach of the Second Sun
Patrick is coming to us straight from Pro Tour Ixalan this week! He played a new take on R/W Approach of the Second Sun with Sunbird's Invocation, but more mana and fewer expensive spells.
The Pro Tour is lousy with Temur Energy (and Four-color Energy, and Sultai Energy)... But that just gives it structure to attack! Patrick's approach to Approach seems thought-provoking now, and sounds like it will be influential moving forward. Most opponents have many "dead" cards in Game One. Imagine the B/U Control opponent who cycles through his entire deck with Search for Azcanta only to find... There is nothing to find.
Or the Energy deck (or any deck, really) that doesn't kill you fast enough... Can they stop you from playing your Approaches?
Well... Sometimes :)
Fri, 20 October 2017
Sunbird's Invocation was a "Perfect 10" at US Nationals
The Sunbird's Invocation Combo
Adam Bialkowski busted open Standard with a 10th-place finish at US Nationals last weekend. He used a R/W Board Control-slash-Combo deck utilizing this big red six and a certain favorite white seven...
Here's the simple explanation of this combination:
This together, these two cards represent a turn seven insta-win combo.
Sunbird's Invocation Fail State
So you've invested six mana in a big red enchantment.
Miraculously, you've untapped, still alive.
However you don't have an Approach of the Second Sun...
What's a girl to do?
Chin up, Planeswalker! So you don't have a turn seven insta-win! That doesn't mean you don't have game...
Your Invocation plays a pretty good "personal Howling Mine" once you've untapped. Basically, your spells can potentially snowball into more and more spells. In the 10th place version, there are a ton of expensive cards -- tons of fives sixes and of course sevens -- that make its centerpiece enchantment really look good.
What's Wrong with Sunbird's Invocation?
If there is anything "wrong" with the Perfect 10, it might be all those expensive cards!
Adam certainly benefited from a (current?) (short-term?) gap in Mono-Red popularity. The archetype version only has one Magma Spray in the main deck, and no real way to develop its game plan against B/U Control in the early game. Further, it has a lot of expensive cards but no great way to ensure it hits all its land drops.
That isn't taking anything away from the innovation; just to say that there is still a lot of room for optimization.
A flaming owl wasn't the only hot Hot HOT deck to stand out at US Nationals. Check out "" now to learn more about Abzan Tokens, Mardu Vehicles, and more on the B/U Control v. U/W Control matchup in Standard!
Fri, 13 October 2017
Longtusk Cub headlined one of the best decks in the Worlds
Worlds was awesome!
We saw an amazing overlap of one of the best players of all time wielding those top skills at exactly the right time, combined with great preparation and and even better 60/75.
But we get it.
You have questions...
Top Level Podcast is here to answer those questions this week! Questions like...
Don't you fret, beloved listeners! The answers to these and other burning questions await in...
The Best Decks in the Worlds
Fri, 6 October 2017
Some cards are just better than the others. Hostage Taker is already one of the best.
Actually... Make that Better than the Best
Brainstorm. Fact or Fiction. Oath of Druids.
Vampiric Tutor. Hermit Druid. Upheaval.
The Top 8 of Pro Tour Houston 2003 sounds like the love child of the Banned and Restricted List and a general rundown of the best spells from almost any format. But the best card of the era? Believe it or not?
A four-of in Mono-Black Reanimator and a key bullet in The Rock's sideboard, Faceless Butcher was a cast-able answer to everything from a mid-range All-Star like Spiritmonger to a combo-riffic 20/20 Cognivore.
Hostage Taker is like Faceless Butcher... But way, way, better. It has the same basic ability, but offers the opportunity for a three-for-one upgrade (rather than just two-for-one).
Five Mana: The New "Splinter Twin" Combo
How are you supposed to deal with The Scarab God? A Fatal Push? Ask it to Walk the Plank? Stockpile a bunch of energy and hit it with Harnessed Lightning?
None of those seem like very good solutions to The Scarab God.
What about removing it from game?
Hostage Taker seems like a great way to deal with The Scarab God... Only that 2/3 body isn't exactly durable. Every Abrade and Lightning Strike (plus like half the Fatal Pushes) will kill it.
... Unless you make it hexproof or something. So that's why, Sultai!
Hostage Taker + Blossoming Defense is like peanut butter and chocolate.
When you put Hostage Taker and Blossoming Defense together, you can -- for sake of argument -- exile the opponent's The Scarab God (which you would probably have to do to win, anyway)... And catch your breath for one mana. All you need to do is get the untap and that The Scarab God can be yours! You will be the unbeatable mage!
A great solution to a certain supposedly "indestructible" red God, Hostage Taker is nevertheless quite vulnerable to a Red Deck's many point removal spells. Blossoming Defense is equally useful here while you bide your time for the untap.
Hostage Taker: Taking Hostages Here, There, Everywhere
Sultai ruled the day at the first Standard Open of the season... But who knows just how far the long shadow of Hostage Taker may loom? God Pharaoh's Gift decks seem to be leaning towards the black and blue of Esper. There might be an honest to god Pirates deck hiding in the metagame. Poor dinosaurs! It's gotta suck to have such great creatures... Only to have to deal with them yourself when The Scarab God and Hostage Taker are across the table.
More on Hostage Taker's meteoric rise (and the rest of the opening weekend of Ixalan Standard) right here:
Fri, 25 August 2017
The Scarab God ends games quickly
Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores begin their discussion of The Scarab God in an odd context... Splashed in a version of Michael Jacob's Temur Emerge!
Even here, The Scarab God is just a remarkable threat. After all, it is a 5/5 creature for five mana to start. Killing The Scarab God is a challenge, to say the least. The other two lines of text are as good as they are anywhere.
The Scarab God against Gate to the Afterlife
One of the big incentives to The Scarab God right now is its ability to interact with God-Pharaoh's Gift type decks.
Whether on its own or in concert with Kalitas, The Scarab God puts tremendous pressure on the opponent's graveyard. Consequently, the opponent might never have six creatures in his graveyard, say.
What should you steal? And when?
Angel of Invention is one of the best cards you can reanimate.
Patrick likens this combination to Donate / Illusions of Grandeur! The increased size of Angel of Invention (4/4 to start, when a zombie instead of just an angel) combined with the creature's natural lifelink protects your own life total while smashing for a ton in the air.
Depending on your archetype, The Scarab God might want to reanimate Trophy Mage. Trophy Mage in the current Standard only has the purpose of finding Gate to the Afterlife (which, in turn, only has the job of setting up God-Pharaoh's Gift)... This not only gives you potential redundancy but can keep your deck strong through the mid-game, even through multiple copies of Abrade.
The Scarab God needs no help
Mike speculates you might want to play Strategic Planning to help fill your graveyard.
Patrick cautions that the god needs little help in filling your own graveyard. The creature, remember, is huge and next to impossible to kill! The Scarab God will typically do fine just reanimating whatever the opponent gives you for targets (though he concedes that getting the big five itself into the graveyard for purposes of Liliana reanimation might be nice).
The two riff on a potential new B/U deck, based on Patrick's GP Denver Grixis build.
This podcast covers many additional topics... Everything from Brad Nelson's continued dominance of Standard (this time with Temur Emerge) to the U/R Advanced Stitchwing deck, to speculation about post-rotation deck archetypes. Check it out now!
Fri, 11 August 2017
Sorry, Earthshaker Khenra. Your window may have already closed :(
Sylvan Advocate Hates Earthshaker Khenra
On the way to yet another Grand Prix Top 8, Standard superstar Brad Nelson time traveled and re-innovated the B/G Winding Constrictor deck last weekend, bringing back Sylvan Advocate over Grim Flayer or Longtusk Cub at the two.
Sylvan Advocate? What is this? 2016?
Grim Flayer is great. Longtusk Cub is great. Even Glint-Sleeve Siphoner can be pretty effective. You know what's even better? Three toughness.
Sylvan Advocate comes down as a 2/3 (forget about its size in the future)... Meaning that it can withstand a Shock on turn two, unlike the other B/G two drop options. As a 2/3, it also pwns tiny 2/1 Earthshaker Khenra.
And at 4/5? It chomp Chomp CHOMPS even a 4/4 Earthshaker Khenra later in the game!
Approach of the Second Sun Hates Earthshaker Khenra
Mike's sidekick over at the Ancestral Recall Podcast, Roman Fusco made another Star City Games Classic Top 8 last weekend... This time with an innovative U/W Approach of the Second Sun deck designed by Roman's frequent collaborator (and Regional Finals victim) Dan Ward.
This U/W deck is truly creature-less (and for purposes of Torrential Gearhulk, artifact-less). That completely blanks Earthshaker Khenra teammate Abrade. While haste is helpful across many of the Mono-Red deck's creatures, the ability to prevent blocking also takes up relevant space on the text box. Against no creatures? No additional value.
But the thing that really, really hates the Red Deck?
The old school instant has an amazing superpower against Mono-Red. If the opponent has one card in hand only, you can Unsummon another creature (putting a second card in the opponent's hand) to blank an attack by Hazoret the Fervent. And of course, if you Unsummon the 4/4 backside on an Earthshaker Khenra, that will be that.
This should surprise no one, though: Approach of the Second Suns decks hate Earthshaker Khenra.
Grasp of Darkness Hates Earthshaker Khenra
Grasp of Darkness really, really hates Hazoret the Fervent... But will settle for murdering a hasty Jackal Warrior, let's be honest.
Grasp's new teammate Gifted Aetherborn, though... 2/3 over 2/1 again, etc. etc. And if the Red Deck needs to spend its second turn pointing an Abrade at Gifted Aetherborn? It won't even have time to drop Earthshaker Khenra on curve.
To find out what other cards and decks are creating a hostile Standard environment for our poor Jackal Warrior, check out this week's episode!
Fri, 4 August 2017
Ramunap Ruins may be the most important new card from Hour of Devastation.
Earthsaker Khenra? Yeah! That's a great creature, we'll grant you... But it's still just a creature. Ramunap Ruins can't be countered and gives players a resource to lean against instead of flooding out.
This land enters the battlefield untapped. It essentially has the superpoower of tapping for both red and colorless; it can support Eldrazi Obligator (or Reality Smasher), not just a purely red creature rush.
Ramunap Ruins finishes off control players. The idea of locking down Standard with counterspell control decks will be a thing of the past. Eight life? Ten life? What life do you think it is safe to stabilize? As long as it has enough Deserts, Ramunap Ruins will work to close out games. This will make for a really tough metagame for U/R Control.
Ramunap Ruins can enjoy a critical mass of haste. This is the true golden age of Red Decks. This might be the most important card on the list, but being able to tap it on turn one for a Bomat Courier; then turn two for an Earthshaker Khenra; then maybe dip into a Lathnu Hellion on turn three is an embarassment of (hasty) riches.
It is not good enough, however to drive Arborback Stomper to playability.
Give this week's episode a listen now:
Fri, 21 July 2017
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh is already exceeding expectations
So how are we going to play Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh? There are so So SO many ways!
Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh in a Planeswalker Control Deck
Michael Hamilton opened up the new season with a win. Nicol Bolas, God-Pharaoh made a one-of appearance in his [otherwise] Jeskai Control deck.
A dedicated Planeswalker control deck with lots of cards that can interact with the opponent's threats is a great home for Nicol Bolas. It's a redundancy on your other permanents, can borrow against the architecture of the rest of your deck, and ultimately just presents an even more powerful threat than the rest of your deck.
You can play an Energy Aggro deck, complete with Longtusk Cub and Bristling Hydra... And just finish with Bolas.
This use of the card just requires you to deal thirteen damage in the first seven turns. Pretty trivial, right? You can just play the big Planeswalker for seven, to deal seven. Not only is Nicol Bolas the best "Demonfire" we've had in years (especially given the seven-for-seven mana cost)... If for some reason something went wrong, you would still have a Planeswalker to help over the next few turns.
An Energy deck is actually particularly great for this... Because Energy is somewhat spotty to come by, you might find yourself stranded with Nicol Bolas in hand, but not the mana to cast it. The Aether Hubs of the Energy strategy go a long way in ensuring the solo black (or whatever is needed) is available, versus being stranded as a colorless.
With Bolas at both extremes of the metagame, there remains a wide number of decks, from Mono-Red StOmPy to U/R Prowess Burn. This podcast covers them all most: