Top Level Podcast
Hostage Taker
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?

Faceless Butcher.

Faceless Butcher!

Faceless Butcher

Weird, right?

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!

Blossoming Defense
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:

Direct download: hostage-taker.mp3
Category:Standard -- posted at: 1:19am EST

Pious Interdiction

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.

Almost.

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

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!

Direct download: pious-interdiction.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 11:38pm EST

Vance's Blasting Cannons

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

Outpost Siege
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).

To wit:

  • Outpost Siege had two different modes: Not only was it a potential source of incremental card advantage over time, the "Dragons" setting was a way to win.
  • Outpost Siege was not a Legendary permanent. You could have multiple copies in play! Mike probably still has nightmares about facing Sam Black with two Khans and a Dragons on camera
  • Outpost Siege allowed you to play both spells and lands as extra resources. Vance's Blasting Cannons is kinda sorta only 60% of an Outpost Siege (again, with half the options). So 30-33% on its face? How annoying would it be to reveal a land (that you can't play) and then not draw a land (when you need one)? Gross, right?

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

Spitfire Bastion
Is the payoff on Spitfire Bastion worth the work?

"Would you play a card that read "RR4. Enchantment. 2R, Tap: Deal three damage to target creature or player?"
-Patrick

Probably not?

While Mike wouldn't play such a conjectural card (probably), it is useful to think of the final flip as potentially three different cards:

  1. The aforementioned 30-33% of an Outpost Siege: This card is a source of incremental card advantage that pays off only after you've untapped successfully with it in play. More than that, it really only pays off after multiple turns.
  2. The conjectural six mana enchantment. This version flips immediately, gives you a potential mana boost (you can still, say, cast a Shock or Magma Spray), but will only offer the full value at very high mana / late in the game
  3. Spitfire Bastion

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

Direct download: blasting-cannons.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 1:20am EST

This week MichaelJ is flipping out over flip cards! First among them? The Search for Azcanta!

Check Out Search for Azcanta:

Search for Azcanta

"Oh hell yeah!"
-Patrick

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

Azcanta, the Sunken Ruin

"... more powerful in play than Library of Alexandria..."
-Patrick

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!

Direct download: search-for-azcanta.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 2:02am EST

In a special exclusive bonus podcast, Patrick and Michael go over their first impressions on Lookout's Dispersal, a new Pirates-themed instant from Ixalan:
Lookout's Dispersal

 

 

Direct download: lookouts-dispersal.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 11:54pm EST

Regisaur Alpha is one of the premier Ixalan dinosaurs

Regisaur Alpha

What is up with this card anyway? Regisaur Alpha offers seven power over two bodies -- three of which have haste -- all for five mana!

How fast can we sign up?

Regisaur Alpha looks great! One of the few poor things about the dinosaur is that it makes Huatli, Warrior Poet look so bad.

Huatli, Warrior Poet spits out Dinosaurs

Huatli, Warrior Poet

Regisaur Alpha and Huatli cost the same [total] amount of mana. Assume you're spitting out a 3/3 the first turn you control Huatli. Now, which would you rather have?

  • A 4/4 dinosaur lord who is making all of your other dinosaurs faster, or
  • A 3 loyalty Planeswalker who could easily die

Regisaur Alpha's 3/3 token is better than Huatli's 3/3 token, too... Just on basis of haste.

That said, Huatli, Warrior Poet is probably meant to be one of the centerpiece cards of the set. Not only is he a Planeswalker (and therefore theoretically automatically cool), they made not only another Planeswalker version of him, but a badass dinosaur tutor that can go find it.

Huatli might be meant for play in a dedicated Planeswalker deck. Think:

  • Three: Gideon of the Trials
  • Four: Chandra, Torch of Defiance
  • Five: Huatli, Warrior Poet

All three Planeswalkers protect themselves well. All three will contribute to expanding control of the battlefield itself. Gideon can both attack and defend. Chandra kills creatues outright. Huatli can make blocker after blocker or gain life turn after turn.

Gishath, Sun's Avatar is one busty dinosaur

Gishath, Sun's Avatar

Instead of looking at Gishath as a clunky eight mana creature, why not look at it as an eight mana Fireball?

Huh?

That's right! How much would you pay for a Fireball where x=7? You'd pay eight mana, right? Well Gishath costs eight, and does seven damage with haste... He's kind of an eight mana Fireball, therefore.

Everything else is gravy. The vigilence is going to be awesome... But it's awesome gravy. Next turn's attack? Gravy. This is not to say you should actually pay to get Gishath onto the battlefield... Just if you had to, it wouldn't be that bad of a deal.

There are even more dinosaurs discussed in this week's episode, which takes Ixalan from one green mana to the aforementioned eight drop... and more!

Direct download: dinosaurs.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 2:11am EST

Kick back, pop in your earbuds, and give a listen to our first look at Ixalan:

Ixalan Changes Planeswalker Rules

Jace, Cunning Castaway
Jace, Cunning Castaway: Ixalan Planeswalker

Michael notes that Jace seems to have gotten ripped in the Gatewatch.

Patrick notes that Jace, Cunning Castaway boasts one of the fastest Planeswalker Ultimates ever. You might as well Ultimate when Jace's loyalty hits 5 BTW; while the token copies are not Legendary, Jace, Cunning Castaway itself is.

The new Planeswalker Uniqueness v. Legendary rule will change how Planeswalkers get played. Having more Jaces in play is cool and all (and this one actually does that for you) but the big winner has to be Gideon of the Trials.

People just didn't play Gideon of the Trials because they were already playing Gideon, Ally of Zendikar; now there is no disincentive. More importantly, having more than one kind of Gideon in play will give players greater protection for their Platinum Angel-like Ultimate.

Ixalan and the Treasure Theme

Captain Lannery Storm
Captain Lannery Storm

Layered and flexible, the Captain is probably Mike's favorite card in Ixalan.

Use her treasure now! She is basically a 3/2 haste creature.

Use her treasure later! You can stockpile for a large attack, or save the mana to bust out Glorybringer on the quick!

Use her treasure for mana! What about not pumping the Captain, but just sacrificing her treasure to cast a Shock, Magma Spray... Or even a Fatal Push?

Exploring Ixalan

Tishana's Wayfinder
Tishana's Wayfinder

It's all the things Mike never should have loved...

  • Sometimes it's Borderland Ranger
  • Sometimes it's Gnarled Mass
  • Generally it's inconsistent and unpredictable

Sold!

Pro Tour Champion Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores talk all the Ixalan that's fit to discuss; spoiled cards, flavor and aesthetics; and of course brewing! Check out Top Level Podcast's first take on Ixalan right here, right now!

Direct download: ixalan.mp3
Category:New Cards -- posted at: 1:59am EST

The Scarab God
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
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!

Direct download: the-scarab-god.mp3
Category:Standard -- posted at: 2:47am EST

Shrine of Burning Rage

Mike can't stand Shrine of Burning Rage in Modern :(

You'd think Mike would be happy about a Burn deck winning Grand Prix Birmingham... But he just can't wrap his head around Shrine of Burning Rage replacing Eidolon of the Great Revel at the two. To Mike, Eidolon of the Great Revel is simply one of the strongest cards in Modern; by contrast...

  • Shrine of Burning Rage is a poor mid-game topdeck.
  • The New Phyrexia artifact is only good against "fair" decks... Many of which play Kolaghan's Command
  • A five-mana commitment that does nothing in and of itself is a recipe for getting run over by Tarmogoyfs.

Patrick does little to turn his opinion around.

Burn deck aside: Scalding Tarn

Mike hates Arid Mesa in Modern Burn decks. While many lands are functionally identical for mono-Mountains fetching (Bloodstained Mire and Wooded Foothills have essentially the same text here), Arid Mesa is most likely to tip the opponent off.

It doesn't come up super often, but if you pass your first turn with the fetch in play, you tend to want the opponent to fetch for an untapped shock land; they are least likely to do this against Arid Mesa.

Mike therefore likes Scalding Tarn in a 4/4/4 split.

Patrick points out a four-fetch distribution has some merit.

The two wax on the difference between the two of them playing a first-turn Scalding Tarn. It doesn't matter which red fetch Michael plays... The jig is up before he ever breaks it. Patrick, though, is a longtime Grixis mage. He would get even more value from turn one Scalding Tarn when playing Burn than most!

Poor Mike :(

More and More Modern

With three big Modern tournaments across three continents to work from, Pro Tour Hall of Famer Patrick Chapin and Resident Genius Michael J. Flores have much to discuss. Everything from Storm to TitanShift is up for discussion. Check it out now!

Direct download: shrine-of-burning-rage.mp3
Category:Modern -- posted at: 11:31pm EST

Earthshaker Khenra
Sorry, Earthshaker Khenra. Your window may have already closed :(

Well... Maybe

Sylvan Advocate Hates Earthshaker Khenra

Sylvan Advocate

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?

Unsummon


Unsummon!

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

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!

Direct download: earthshaker-khenra.mp3
Category:Standard -- posted at: 2:20am EST