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Tales From Nationals Qualifiers: Bant Caw Blade (Top 8)

This past week, myself and 4 other friends made the 3 hour drive from Edmonton to Calgary for one of the 4 8-slot nationals qualifiers. In the weeks beforehand, I was testing every variation of Caw Blade possible, and I knew I wanted to play the best deck for this event. However, I was quite wary of the fact that I would be paired up against the mirror several times, and wanted to have an edge in that matchup.

On the Wednesday beforehand, I played a variant of Gerry Thompson’s Darkblade, which I liked. However, I lost in the finals to blue/white because I didn’t have a good plan for sideboarding, that is, I had lots of cards to put in, but so few to take out. This is an example of how not to give yourself the best shot at winning. I really liked the black splash for Inquisition of Kozilek and Creeping Tar Pit, but it still felt like the edge I had wasn’t enough to make the matchup decisively in my favour.

Sometime about midweek, my good friend (and recent PTQ winner) Brian told me of a Bant Caw blade deck that splashed green for Lotus Cobra and Explore. Apparently normal cawblade was one of your best matchups, because a turn 2 Cobra is so much better than a turn 2 stoneforge.

I kept the idea in the back of my mind, knowing that I really didn’t want to audible at the last minute, as I had been practicing with Darkblade and felt more or less comfortable with it, once I had wrinkled out the sideboard plan against blue-white.

On Thursday, I netdecked Gerry’s list for straight blue-white and went to another tournament, which I 3-0ed. The competition was not exactly fierce, and so I took my results their with a grain of salt. I liked hwo the deck played, but I still was unsure.

The one thing I knew I had going for me was that whatever I had been practicing, it had been some form of Caw-Blade. I knew how the mechanics of the deck worked, and despite the differences in colours, I knew I was a competent pilot who could do well with it. However, I did have to make a decision.

Friday night was a draft at Wizard’s, my local store. We had about ~20 people in the smalls store, but the draft fired with 8. The rest of us were testing for the day after. Since I was spending the night with some friends before we drove down the night before, I had brought my 2 binders of standard rares and of tournament-quality commons/uncommons. These binders effectively let me build any deck I need to on the fly. I tested the various cawblade mirrors and got to understand them more, and then Brian asked me if I had done anything with the bant deck. I told him I hadn’t, and that I was probably going to play Darkblade. He said I should sleeve it up and give it a few games just to try, and so I built the deck.

I was pretty amazed.

We started out testing against RUG. I was on the play. I cast a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. He cast a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. I cast Explore into a fetchland and a normal land, cast Preordain, cast Stoneforge Mystic, fetched and cast Mortarpod and killed his cobra. The game was won shortly thereafter.

Now obviously this was an example of a nut draw, but that in and of itself speaks volumes. The one thing that normal caw blade doesn’t have is a ‘nut draw’. Rather, you have a very consistent deck that does powerful things, but not absurdly powerful things. The Cobra package changes that. At the heart, you’ve still got the same old cawblade shell, but you’ve added more speed and explosiveness to the deck.

So I was really happy with that game. Obviously I realized that I wouldn’t always draw like that, but that fact that it could happen was what attracted me to the deck. We played some more matches and drew up the sideboard and this is what we came up with.
Snakes on a Blade


Sideboard

Besides the green splash, there are a few things which make this deck stand out from your typical cawblade deck.

Frost Titan is a card which was in the original version of the list that Brian had found, and after trying it out I was happy to leave it in. Being able to tap down opposing titans, Creeping Tar Pits, or even Gideon Juras proved to be invaluable, and the demi-shroud certainly helped as well. Some lists run Sphinx of Jwar Isle, but I’d much rather have a guy which can do combat with titans, and tap stuff down than full-fledged shroud. As well, who doesn’t love a Titan wielding a sword?

Instead of a second Sword in the mainboard, we run a Bonehoard. Because we run 7 more creatures than normal (4 Cobras and 3 Titans), Bonehoard is more effective. It also helps a great deal in the mirror if I need to take down a Gideon Jura in the late game, or if I just really want another sizeable blocker against aggro decks.

The deck’s mana base is a little awkward, if only because we have so many green sources and not a ton to use them for, but it works out reasonably well. Because of the mana acceleration provided by Lotus Cobra and Explore, this deck is less weak to Tectonic Edge than say Darkblade.

The sideboard is pretty straightforward, but one thing I like is the pair of Tectonic Edges. Note that we don’t ever board out lands for these; rather you treat them as spells so that our mana is still consistent. They’re obviously good against Valakut but also can be very helpful against control decks like Darkblade, espeilly if their game plan involves manlands.

So, after switch to the Bant version of cawblade, I was ready to go crush the tournament the next day.

Other than myself, the group that we brought down had a Valakut player, a blue-white caw blade player, a RUG player (who top 8ed) and a mono white eldrazi player. As soon as I heard about one person playing mono white, I tried to convince him to play Caw Blade but to no avail. Oh well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Round 1: vs Michael (Tezzeret Caw Blade)
In game 1, I never saw any extraneous artifacts so I assumed he was on plain old Darkblade. I get an early Stoneforge Mystic but he Inquisition of Kozileks away my Sword of Feast and Famine. However, I soon cast a Frost Titan and tap down his Tectonic Edge so that he can’t take me off double white for Gideon Jura. He then punts by casting a Squadron Hawk, which resolves, and then attempting to Go For the Throat my titan with no mana up. I cheerfully indicate that it’s countered and he succumbs to the combine power of Titan and my follow-up Gideon.

Sideboarding: Caw Blade
In this matchup, I board out Mortarpod, a Mana Leak, a Frost Titan and a Day of Judgment. Aside from Mana Leak, these cards don’t do nearly as much as some of the cards I have post-board, and in this style of deck I’d rather play more spells than leave leak mana open in this matchup.

I board in the second sword, because they’re most likely bringing in Divine Offerings or something like that, as well as Voltion Reins for either their sword or their planeswalkers, as well as Into the Roil and Condemn. Spot removal is very useful in this matchup if you can get them to spend their early turns on equipping someone with a Sword, and then you can prohibit them from untapping and get ahead.

On the draw, you can board out 1-2 more leaks for Tec-edges if you feel they’re warranted. In this match I brought 1 in.

In game 2, Michael leads off with a Stoneforge Mystic for Sword of Body and Mind. Because I can’t see him boarding in body and mind against me, I just assume he’s playing a 1/1 split and has Sword of Feast and Famine in his hand. I play a turn 2 Lotus Cobra, hoping to explode on turn 3, but to my surprise he plays a Contagion Clasp[. I didn’t know he was Caw-Tezz at that moment, so I concluded that he might have seem green mana game 1, and inferred that I would have Cobras and then have boarded in Clasps. Of course, he was not next-leveling me, and jut never drew them in game 1. He establishes a board of Squadron Hawks and starts pecking me to death, and when I finally land a Gideon he simply kills it with birds and a Celestial Colonnade. I can only survive being hit with sworded birds for so long and I fold without dealing him any damage.

In game 3, I keep a hand with double Lotus Cobra. My opponent, conveniently enough has double Go For the Throat to dispatch them. He tries to Memoricide me, and while I tank as to whether or not I should counter it he announces Frost Titan. Seeing as I have a titan in hand I snap counter. If any of you are playing with Memoricide, know that you don’t name a card until the spell has resolved, so as not to give away any extra information to your opponent. I stick the titan soon after and he resolves a Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas and starts using the +1 ability. He whiffs for several turns in a row while I add a gideon to my team, and tap down his Creeping Tar Pit. When Michael lands a Tumble Magnet and makes it a 5/5 with Tezzeret, I happily force the magnet to attack Gideon and ride my titan to victory.

1 – 0

Round 2: vs Chris (Black-Red Vampires)

Chris is one of the better players in Alberta, so I knew this game wasn’t going to be easy. In game 1, I have double Stoneforge Mystic, which fetch Mortarpod and Sword. The first mystic gets hit by a Lightning Bolt, while the second one sticks. I flash in the Sword and equip it to the germ token and bash in, untapping and forcing a discard. Searching for an answer, Chris activates Viscera Seer, saccing itself to scry. He scrys first, and then attempts to nug me for 2 with Kalastria Highborn. I call a judge and the judge tells him that he can’t do that. This is because you activate the seer’s ability by paying the cost (sacrificing a creature) and putting the ability onto the stack. Highborn triggers and its ability is put on to the stack above the scry ability, and must resolve first. Because it’s a may ability and Chris scryed first, it’s assumed that he didn’t pay for the highborn and by the time he’s already scryed, it’s too late as the ability has already resolved. With an active Sword, it wouldn’t have made much of a difference anyway and and I quickly take the game.

Sideboarding: Vampires

Against vampires, I board out Cobras, 2 leaks and a jace. They have so much removal that Cobra will die almost instantly, and it trades poorly in combat with things like Bloodghast and Viscera Seer. Leaks sometimes don’t do enough, but since I had seen Captivating Vampire in game 1, I reasoned that keeping one in would be better than the 4th Jace.

I boarded in the 2 Kor Firewalkers, the Sylvok Lifestaff, both Ousts, the Condemn, the Day of Judgment and the Into the Roil.

In game 2, I mulligan and keep a slow hand. Chris punishes me with a bunch of vampires, and I can’t stabilize. My notes show him going to 18 and then to 21, and me getting slaughtered, so it wasn’t very close.

Game 3 was where I determined I was running good enough to top 8. I’m on the play and I mulligan down to 5, and all those 5 cards are land. Begrudgingly, I keep 5 land, reasoning that I could hit an absolutely unplayable 4 and at least this way I can play most everything I draw. Chris starts off fast with a Viscera Seer, Kalastria Highborn and a Captivating Vampire. Luckily, I hit a Day of Judgment and reset the board. I then draw into a Jace, the Mind Sculptor, which brainstorms into a Kor Firewalker and Mortarpod. I suit up the firewalker, content to sit back and brainstorm for a few turns, and when Chris attacks me with a 2/2 vampire (I forget which one), I promptly block with my 2/3. To my chagrin, Chris casts a Crush. to force the trade. Eventually I hit a Squadron Hawk and Gideon, which gives me enough card advantage and firepower to win the game. If I could get there off of 5 land, there was nothing that could stop me on my way to nationals.

2 – 0

Round 3: vs Chris (different guy; Valakut)

In game one, Chris misses his 5th land drop with no Overgrown Battlement nor Lotus Cobra. This lets me get a Sword of Feast and Famine online pretty quickly, and force him to start discarding. He manages to eventually resolve an Avenger of Zendikar, but I force the attack with Gideon Jura, and since he doesn’t have a land immediately, I strat killing off plants with Squadron Hawks. I Assassinate the Avenger with gideon on the following turn and he has no gas to stop me.

Sideboarding: Valakut
Against Valakut, we want to be boarding out Squadron Hawks, because not only do they have Inferno Titan and perhaps Slagstorm, but they have enough pressure that you can’t just sit back on massive card advantage from Jace and Hawks and hope they run out of steam. We also want to board out the Bonehoard, as it really doesn’t do anything, along with a Frost Titan and a Gideon Jura. It might be correct to board out the second Gideon and keep in all the Frost Titans, but being able to soak up a hit from Avenger and friends is relevant enough that I don’t mind the 2/1 split postboard. The reason we board out some top-heavy cards is that the only way they really have to interact with our finishers is through their own finishers. If we focus more on ensuring that they don’t stick one of their bigger threats (or if they do, that they are delayed), we really only need 1 or 2 threats to finish the game. Finally, we board out Mortarpod if we don’t see Lotus Cobra, but if we do we leave it in.

From the board we want to add in all the copies of Flashfreeze, both Tectonic Edges, both Ousts, and the second Sword. The first two are pretty obvious, but Oust is really good against either their cobras or battlements, as it not only slows their mana production, but it gives them a semi-dead draw in the later turns. A turn 4 Overgrown Battlement is a lot worse than one on turn 2. The sword is good because they might bring in something along the lines of Natures Claim, and because we’re boarding out 2 equipment and we don’t want extra Stoneforge Mystics to not give us advantage.

In game 2, Chris misses his 5th and drop before drawing and casting a Cultivate. He then resolves a Primeval Titan, which is a lot less effective when his lands at the time were 5 forests and a mountain. He grabbed double Valakut, the Molten Pinnacle, and I happily locked down his Primeval with a Frost Titan. Not to be outdone in the haymaker department, Chris threw down an Avenger and dropped a land. I Ousted the avenger and then Stoneforged for a Sword, and attached it to Frosty. Unable to deal with my 8/8 titan, he quickly packed it in.

3 – 0

Round 4: vs Andrew (UW Cawblade)

Andrew leads off with a turn 2 Stoneforge Mystic for Sword, while I have a turn 2 Lotus Cobra. He quickly Mortarpods away my snake and I have to play my own Stoneforge for sword. I resolve my first hawk and get in good with my sword after chumping his, and although he has an Elspeth Tirel and triple Gideon Jura, my collonades and titans manage to take it down.

I sideboarded in much the same way as in round 1.

Game 2 was an interesting affair, with me having turn 2 Lotus Cobra, although it got Ousted twice. Andrew then cast a Gideon Jura and double Tectonic Edge me. I played a Gideon of my own but then he bricked on land and I was able to stabilize of my lands and lotus cobras to eventually kill him. I’m sorry if my notes were a little sparse but the matches were more intense than the brief notes I’ve marked down. However, this game does showcase one awesome thing about this deck. The cobra plan is so different than the stoneforge/squadron hawk plan that you have opponents who bring in things like Oust which while fine against the cobra plan, isn’t nearly as good against stoneforge, hawks, or various planeswalkers. The only card that’s really good against the cobra plan while not being totally divergent from their normal plan is Mortarpod. However, if your opponent fetches Mortarpod to deal with cobra, it means they’re not gettinf a sword to put pressure on you, and when you drop your own stoneforge you get to be the aggressor.

4 – 0

Round 5: vs Michel (UW Venser Control)

I’m excited, because a win here means I can double-draw into top 8. I start off with a strong opener: Lotus Cobra into Stoneforge Mystic, which gets Mana Leaked. Unfortunately I don’t hit my 4th land drop until several turns and Preordains have elapsed, while Michel is more than content to accumulate card advantage through a Jace Beleren while sitting behind a Wall of Omens. Once I get a Squadron Hawk online and equipped, Michel has a Tumble Magnet to stop me form getting it in. He finally resolves a Venser, the Soujourner, and continues to Flicker out his magnet, ensuring I can’t get in an attack. When he finally ultimates venser and starts casting a bunch of spells, while his Celestial Colonnades get in for damage, I know it’s game over.

Sideboarding: Non-Caw based control
So for this matchup I board out pretty much all my creature removal, as the only creatures I saw were Wall of Omens and manlands. So I bring out Mortarpod, Day of Judgment, as well as Bonehoard and one Stoneforge Mystic in favour of Voltion Reins, the Into the Roil, and 2 Tectonic Edge.

In game 2 Michel keeps a land-light hand and has no outs to me swining with unsworded hawks. Not much of a match.

In game 3 we have a slow control match, where I manage to stick a Jace, the Mind Sculptor and start fatesealing. When Jace gets to 13 loyalty, I put a Preordain on the bottom and Michel rips the [card]Jace Beleren to stay alive. He eventually gets a Venser the Soujourner and goes ultimate. This game was about as “draw-go” as you can get, and in the end the deck with 7 Jaces won the Jace war, and by extension the game.

4 – 1

Round 6: vs Mat (Aggro Valakut)

We both have relatively slow starts, and Mat misses his 4th land drop. I try and get ahead with a jace but it quickly dies to a burn spell. Mat hits his 4th land drop, but he only has one forest, and I cast a Frost Titan to lock him out of his only green source and the game.

For sideboarding, I boarded the same way as round 3, except I took out Explores and 2 leaks for Kor Firewalkers, Condemn and the Sylvok Lifestaff. These cards are much better agains the aggro plan while shaving off some of the slower, less effective cards.

On the draw in game 2, I mullligan to 5 and get hit by Lotus Cobra into double Hero of Oxid Ridge. Again, not much of a match.

In game 3, I mulligan to 6 and keep possibly the ideal 6 card hand. I keep Seachrome Coast, Razorverge Thicket, double Oust[card], [card]Kor Firewalker and Stoneforge Mystic. I throw down an early firewalker, and hit my land and Oust his [/card]Lotus Cobra[/card] and fetch Sword of Feast and Famine. I put the sword on the Firewalker, and start swinging in for huge value. He eventually draws a Tumble Magnet to stall, but I eventually just wear down the counters and get through for my souped-up firewalker.

5 – 1

Round 7: vs Adrian (Valakut)

I’m in 6th, paired against the 5th place guy and we intentionally draw. I’m reasonably confident I’m in for top 8.

5 – 1 – 1

When everything is said and done, Jason Ness (the TO) informs everyone that one person at 5-1-1 did not make top 8. He reads them off in descending order and slowrolls us on the 8th seed, by thanking the judges and players and doing announcements just before he makes the announcement. Thankfully, he calls my name and I’m headed for nationals this summer in Toronto.

Because this was a large nationals qualifier, we didn’t play out the top 8. My good friend Attila also made top 8 with RUG, so we were happy that we’d have 4 people from our store headed to nationals this summer.

The deck played very well, and my only loss was to a great player with a great deck. I’m certainly looking forward to trying the Venser deck out once I can get some Vensers of my own. I felt noticeably ahead at almost all times in the mirror, and Frost Titan did more than his fair share of work. If I could change anything, I would probably cut a green source, most likely a Verdant Catacombs for another white source, perhaps a Stirring Wildwood or just another basic plains. Other than that, the deck performed extremely well and I highly recommend it to anyone playing in their local nationals qualifiers in the coming weeks.

I’d love to give a shout out to my testing group from Wizard’s Comics: Attila, for grinding MWS matches with me for hours on end in the preceding weeks; Brian, for convincing me to try the deck and helping me with the sideboard; Stephen, for driving all of us down to Calgary despite the horrid road conditions, and everyone else for helping me along the way – you guys are awesome.

If you have any questions about Bant cawblade, or anything else, feel free to post in the comments below, or email me at zak-AT-power9pro.com or via twitter at www.twitter.com/zturchan.

Cheers,

Zak

Scars of Mirrodin – Impact on Standard (Type 2)

Scars of Mirrodin.  Looming large over the horizon, Wizards’ newest expansion is set to hit the stores on October 1st.  With the release of Scars of Mirrodin new strategies will emerge and once powerful decks will disappear to the realm of Extended.  With all of the available spoilers it is time to speculate on what changes will occur to the Standard (type 2) meta-game.  This shift will be important with the 2010′s State and Provincial Championships on October 9th.  We will see if we can figure out which cards will make the biggest impact in the post Shards of Alara/M10 tournament world.  It is a time of new beginnings and a time to revisit places in our past.  Thinking about our past, I would like to take one moment to say goodbye to all of our Shards of Alara friends:

So long, Jund!

Time to hang up our Putrid Leechs and Sprouting Thrinaxs.  No deck was more dominant in the Shards meta-game than this B/G/R build.  High powered threats and spectacular removal made Jund the most feared and prepared against deck since the Faeries of Lorwyn.  The biggest loss?

Bloodbraid Elf

Forget Maelstrom Pulse and Broodmate Dragon, this Elf provided amazing card advantage to steal games all by herself. Without Bloodbraid, Jund would not have been remotely viable. This Elf Berserker found a home in every deck that could support her colors. Easily the best uncommon in the set. Now for a few more farewells:

It’s been fun, but now we need to move on. See you in Extended!

Out of the dozens of cards that have been spoiled already, I have picked up on a few that seem like they will make an impact on the Standard Meta currently dominated by U/W Control, FauNaya, Valakut-Ramp and Mythic Conscription.

U/W Control
Come rotation on October first U/W Control will loose a few pieces, most notably Elspeth Knight-Errant. It will be interesting to see if Elspeth Tirel will be able to replace her old incarnation. The new Planeswalker costs one more and cannot generate counters and token together. I think that the five mana casting cost will not prevent the switch initially but might come to really matter since the meta game is so fast right now. On the flip side, Elspeth’s new ultimate is very powerful. The next option in Planeswalkers is the powerful Venser the Sojourner. Also comining at a casting cost of five, the U/W walker has some interesting abilities. Being able to exile your Baneslayer Angel and following that up with Day of Judgment is a strong play in control. The other loss is the token generating Martial Coup. This loss should not impact the archetype to significantly since most build will only include it as a one-of. Path to Exile is another big loss to U/W, the role will need to be filled by the more situational Condemn.

FauNaya
This archetype is on the way out in my opinion. Scars of Mirrodin does not offer anything to this deck that is on par with Knight of the Reliquary or Noble Hierarch. The deck also looses Oblivion Ring, Qasali Pridemage, Realm Razer and the superstar Bloodbraid Elf. I am sure that the Vengevine/ Fauna Shaman engine will still be around but I think the deck will look vastly different.

Valakut-Ramp (Titan-Ramp)
The plan is simple; ramp into Primeval Titan and use him to set up a kill with Valakut the Molten Pinnacle. This is the big dog in the yard, Valakut-Ramp only looses Rampant Growth in the rotation. However, nothing in the new Standard will fits the curve of this card. Cultivate might work. I like Strata Scythe as an alternate win condition if you need to play around Spreading Seas. I also think that Genesis Wave fits nicely in the deck. Valakut-Ramp will be the archetype to beat early in the season until new strategies are discovered.

Mythic Conscription (Eldrazi Conscription, Mythic)
The biggest loss for this deck is Sovereigns of Lost Alara. The Exalted Spirit let you search up your Eldrazi Conscription in order to put the game away. Without the ability to tutor for the key enchantment, Mythic should no longer be a threat in Standard.

What’s Next?
Scars of Mirrodin offers us a vast selection of powerful spells that are sure to have an immediate impact on the new Standard. Take a look at some of the things you should be hoping to pick up at your Pre-release event this weekend:

Scars of Mirrodin will offer us plenty of new options and old favorites will soon go by the wayside. I am really looking forward to playing Phylactery Lich with Darksteel Axe. I recommend going to a Pre-release this weekend since there will not be much time to prepare for States coming up in October. The 2010′s State and Provincial Championships will be the first big events to play with the new Standard. Study your spoilers and see what you can do to deal with U/W control and Valakut-Ramp. Goodbye Bloodbraid Elf, and thanks for all the fish.

Taking 2nd Place at the Boston $5K

Last week I discussed my preparation for the big TCGPlayer.com 5k / PTQ weekend in Boston, MA. All week I was pretty certain that I would be sleeving up UW tapout for Saturday but was contemplating some Mythic for Sunday. I also talked about my helping friend and former pro tour-er Blaine Hatab get Kiln Fiend into a winning deck. Well, Blaine and my testing (or lack thereof) worked out as he finished 9th and I came in second losing in the finals to JUND when I couldn’t rip one of 14 outs to take home my first Magic Trophy.

First I’ll start with the list I brought to the tournament Saturday and some discussion of it.

you can see me discuss the list here.

My big insistance in the deck was to run 4 Oblivion rings. I really like the Obring vs. just about every deck out there right now. Even against mono red or R/x, being able to oblivion ring a Kiln fiend is invaluable. I wouldn’t leave all four in postboard vs. red decks, and I’d only cut them all if I didn’t see kiln fiend in games 1 and 2. But Planeswalkers are everywhere right now, and so aren’t baneslayers; Obring is just a good catch all, I even Obring’d a 1/1 Goblin Token vs. polymorph once last weekend.

I also liked 2 path and considered 3 just because of how good mythic is, and how an unchecked baneslayer angel can simply rule the mirror.

Probably the strangest thing about my list is the inclusion of 4 total fetchlands, 2 white and 2 blue. This is for a number of reasons. 1 they make both Jace and Sphinx of Jwar Isle better. Sometimes the sphinx just isnt enough late game and that’s when you have most of your card advantage. Numerous times on the weekend I would end up with a sphinx and some fetches and they would give me the chance to see more cards. Same goes with Jace, I once Jace: brainstormed 3 times in a row and got all lands each time, luckily the third time yielded a fetch so I could mix things up and ended up taking the game down despite not havnig a single threat for a few turns.

My Board was as follows:

Nothing really crazy in here except the 2 Jace Beleren. Those are in there for the control match to vindicate their jace and net me some cards when I can slap em down and get it done. I also ended up bringing them in vs. UR polymorph b/c in game 1 my opponent seemed really reliant on Jace to find his stuff.

This tournament really started off on the wrong foot for me. Out of 228 players I got paired up aganist my best friend Steve Baroni in round 1 and he was playing Open the Vaults / Time Sieve, the one deck that UW has almost no chance of beating.

Steve started with a mull to 4 or 5 and dropped game 1, then proceeded to take game 2 easily. As we began to shuffle up for game 3 Steve wanted to reboard some cards and when he reached for his deckbox it was gone. Someone had taken his box with his postboarded deck and he was missing some important hard to find commons and unless he replaced them would’ve had to scoop from the tournament. As we played game 3 Blaine tried to track some cards down, after coming up with nothing Steve decided to scoop to me and drop from the tournament to do some free drafting.

Then I proceded to drop my second game to the UW mirror after I couldn’t handle my opponent’s baneslayer angels in either of the second or third game.

I was not feeling great at this point, clearly I should’ve been 0-2 drop but with one win I *simply* had to win out…

I ended up beating, in no particular order, UW Tapout x2, Mythic, Jund, Naya SHallies, and White weenie to finish up 7-1 and able to draw with eventual champ Josh Herr into the top 8.

I was pretty nervous for the top 8 simply because I had played so horribly in the 8th round. I faced a good local player I knew and had beaten the last two times we faced (Dustin Taylor – 1859). I played really poorly against Dustin who was in it to win it. He gave me a real run for my money in game 1 after he mulled to 3 and I had a fairly slow start. In game 2 he rolled me on the play and in game 3 I ripped running baneslayer angels to give him no hope of top eighting. Most of my good fortune on Satudray was due to my supreme rips and not having to mull once.

In the top 8 meeting we were discussing splits and Gerard Fabiano was undecided on a split himself. I proposed we each take 500 and put the final 200 in the pot and play a winner-take-all top 8 event. Everyone eventually agreed to this and we were off.

Quarter Finals vs. Jund

I was pretty confident about Jund going into this event and was glad to see it in the first round of the top 8. Now that I had $500 in my pocket the pressure was off and I was able to just do work. If you watch my opponent’s interview he said he felt like he got outjunded this match and mabye that’s true because there weren’t any difficult decisions to be made during these games. It was all about surviving blightnings and casting as many spreading seas as I could to get to my Baneslayer Angels and Sphinx of Jwar Isle.

Semifinals vs. UW Tapout.

This is the only match other than mythic that I 2-0′d all day. In game 1 I stuck a Baneslayer Angel on 5 and then he played one on his turn 5. I laid down a jace the mind sculptor and bounced his angel then swang. At this point the lock was on as he could either try and take out my jace or keep dropping his Baneslayer. He dropped the baneslayer again and I didn’t have to play another card the rest of the match because of Negate in my hand and no reason to tap.

In game 2 it was more of the same, I answered his baneslayers but he couldn’t answer my 5/5 fliers. On the game winning turn I had a Sphinx and a Slayer vs. his Slayer. With plenty of Mana I cast mind spring for 4 leaving 3 mana open in hopes of ripping a path or an oblivion ring, the fourth card I drew was an Obring and that was that.

Finals vs. Jund

He takes down game 1 after casting Blightning once from his hand and another off of a cascade. In game 2 I have 7 mana on the turn after he drops Malakir Bloodwitch to a pretty full board facing down my baneslayer angel. I drop a Wall of Omens drawing Mind Control taking his bloodwitch and he scoops us into game 3.

Game 3 was a little nuts as he has the triple Putrid Leech Start after my Spreading Seas suck on the draw. Between all his Putride Leech activations and a swing from my Baneslayer Angel we’re both sitting under 10 life. I have a Colonnade on the board but my only other lands are plains and tectonic edges. I can draw any one of 3 islands, 2 blue fetches, 4 Glacial Fortresses or 3 Wrath of Gods to even this game up. I draw a blank and he’s able to burn me with Siege Gang Comander and have more than enough to swing in for the win and the trophy (though he and I split the final $200).

All in all I was pretty happy with UW tapout. I sleeved it up again on Sunday but it did not perform as well, I had to mulligan a lot and my draws weren’t very optimal and I was out by the sixth round. If I had to sleeve it up again I would definitely include a Gideon Jura in my Maindeck and likely a second martial coup. Martial Coup is really important in the mirror and my opponents having multiples took me down plenty of times over the two day weekend. I think I would cut down to 2 mind spring and try to throw in a Divination. Some potential cuts are 1x Baneslayer Angel, 1x Day of Judgment or an Oblivion Ring. I really like the maindeck negates so I wouldn’t personally cut those but I can see why people would not want them in the big 60.

This weekend I’ve got another PTQ in Hartford Connectictu, I’ll be wearing my bright orange Power9pro tshirt but I’ll likely be sleeving up Mythic Bant. I haven’t decided about which version I’m going to run, I’m leaning towards the Eldrazi Conscription version but with at least 1 Rafiq of the Many to give it more of a threat level if I can’t find my Sovereigns of Lost ALara during a game.

Thanks for reading

Mike Gemme
mike@power9pro.com
bobbysapphire on MTGO.

Trying to Grind at Pro Tour San Diego and the New Standard

Attending my first Pro Tour last weekend was a hip-check to my Super Ego. I’ve been to dozens of card conventions and large tournaments, but this is the first time I attended when I wasn’t even invited to the big dance. There was never a VS System Pro Circuit Championship that I wasn’t qualified for. Since 2002 there’s only been one year where I participated in Star Wars CCG Worlds that I didn’t have a bye to the second day. And when Decipher had a Fantasy Lord of the Rings TCG contest for Worlds on their official website I was worth 15 points!

Joking aside, the transition to magic has been oft-fruitless and never had that been so abundantly clear than when I was on the side of the convention hall near the dealers, looking accross at the “pros” duking it out for zeros.

I will say that if you love Magic you should definitely attend a pro tour. 8 man events fire from 9am to 3am. You can play a MTGO Draft for free. Some of the tournaments have insane prizes (xbox, flights to San Juan, Foil uncut sheets of Worldwake), and there’s plenty of room to battle EDH style, trade, or loaf around dishing about the game.

I fancy myself a competitive Magic Player so I didn’t do anything *fun* last weekend other than a 2HG sealed event. I had never played 2HG and my brother and I built our deck pretty suboptimally since we didn’t understand that Pulse Tracker was an inherent powerhouse. We had some fair bombs for regular sealed decks, but 2HG is a much different breed.

My first event was the LCQ. My pool was pretty fair and I thought it would allow me to do some work. It was a RG ally deck with a light black splash for Bojuka Brigand and Nimana Sell-Sword to up the ally count to double digits. Its bread and butter was the Kazuul Warlord and the double Graypelt Hunter. My first heartbreak came in game 3 of round 2 when I passed the turn to my opponent while tapped out with a 2/3 a 2/1 and the warlord untapped. I was at 11 life and he was at 4. My only card in hand was a burst lightning that I could kick next turn. My opponent had 2 counters on Quest for the Grave Lord and a Hagra Crocodile and a Ruthless Cullblade on board. My opponent draws, putting two cards in his hand. He says “Well, he can’t block” and swings in with the croc. I go into the tank: I’ve already drawn out his Groundswell so I’m not super worried about the swing. I’m a little bit concerned about Vampire’s bite, which I haven’t seen but some people board in vs. red. I also know he hasn’t played either of the Bloodhusk Ritualists that he had. I felt that if I blocked and let him put a 5/5 zombie on the field, I’d be hard pressed to get my four damage in if he just drew the ritualist. I decided not to block and the two cards in my opponent’s hand were Harrow and a second Groundswell dealing me exactly 11 damage. I stayed in but I was pretty broken after that. I think I ended up 2-2 or 2-3.

I was however, geared up for Extended and sleeved up Combo Elves the night before I left for San Diego while I caught up on my favorite USA shows White Collar and Psych. I’m big into television so if anyone ever wants to talk tv, comment away; I watch a lot.

I didn’t have the opportunity to test the elves much because of all the standard testing for my friends and roomates on the PT, so when I went into the PTQs with it I ended up 1-3, 2-3; but I learned a lot about the deck and had the chance to chat up Matt Nass during some heated games of Guillotine over the course of the weekend about sideboard plans and I feel a lot better slinging it tomorrow at the local PTQ.

What I really want to get to though, is standard. Since worlds, about everyone on my team other than my brother (turbofog) has been rocking Marijn “I hate the world” Lybaert’s Jund list. After the event he posted up the deck with updates and it looked a little something like this:

We call this list STUND (stock Jund); it’s about the least spicy Jund list ever made. I top 8′d states with it in New Hampshire and it has fared well for my friend and top 100 constructed player on planet Earth Jason Ford; the dude who x-1′d the first day of the Pro Tour with the above list (swap out 2 Rootbound Crag for 2 Raging Ravine) and dealt talk of the town Tom Ross his only constructed loss all weekend.

Like I said, this list isn’t spicy. It doesnt put Siege-Gang in, which is what a lot of Jund decks are doing right now. It doesn’t even consider Rampant Growth or Explore, but instead opts for the board developing Borderland Ranger in the MD (with two more in the board!). Most people who look at Jason’s list and ask me about it question these Borderlands and the Chandra Nalaar most often. A lot of times Chandra just gets there, we even bring her in for the mirror (cutting 4 leeches and 3 Pulse, always – no matter what). Against control decks, she gets there in the face of Wall of Denial, in matchups with creatures she’s recurring removal. Borderland Ranger is a little bit harder to defend, so I’ve asked JFord to give me 100 words on why the borderlander. He gave me doulbe that.

“Borderland Ranger is probably the card that gets the most funny looks, besides maybe the Chandra in the sideboard. Borderland Ranger, despite only being a 1 of, is largely the foundation of the deck. It lets you essentially play 25.5 lands, fixes your mana, fetches a basic against pesky Ruinblaster shenanigans, and even acts as a body – a 2/2 should not be ignored. Some ask why I wouldn’t just play another Ravine in its spot, as manlands largely do much of the same – they let me play a higher land count with much of the same utility of a spell, and they even tap for 2 colors to boot. However, the manlands don’t let you develop as well. Ravine never actually wants to block a Bloodbraid Elf, as it will cost you both a land drop and an entire turn (to keep the mana untapped), on top of doing nothing for your Ruinblaster situation. Furthemore, Borderland lets me cast Garruk, Bloodwitch, and Chandra post board – not something that just one land outside of Savage Lands is helping.

Don’t find yourself falling into the trap of automatically shaving the one Borderland, either when initially building or when sideboarding. It is as much of a core to this build as the 4 Bloodbraids are. ”

That’s all pretty well said without even considering it’s red zone implications. It trades with bloodbraid and is great to block a leech when you’ve got mana up with a bolt backup. He also lets you keep a lot of unkeepable hands as well. Even though I do sometimes get burned by them (more on this later), I’ll keep a two lander with borderland and gas no problem.

Jason ended up 8-2 in the constructed portion and 46th overall at the PT, his second straight top 50 finish and he’ll be riding the train into San Juan later on in the year.

So after my PTQing was done, they had a WPN event on Sunday with a first place prize of a flight and hotel to the next PT in San Juan. I decided to sleeve up STUND (though when I sat down for round 1 I totally forgot that I put my fetches in my elves deck and had to run and snag Jason’s deckbox to avoid DQ). I ended up in the top 8 with a sole loss to white weenie where in G1 I had to mull to 4 with no land and game 2 he just had more threats than I had removal though I likely incorrectly terminated a Conquerer’s Pledge token when my life was starting to get low. I beat Bant Twice, B/R burn, and UW Control.

Some Highlights:

R1 vs. UW Control, dropped game 1 but got there on game 2 with a double bloodwitch hand and game 3 with Chandra’s Ultimate against 3 Wall of Denial.

R3 vs. Bant my opponent could’ve had the draw but decided not to kill my garruk w/ 4 counters and let my lone bloodwitch beat past his two Baneslayers for 7 when I topdecked burn while he was at 8 life.

R5 vs. B/R aggro my opponent. In game 1 my opponent stuck on two lands and all I saw was Goblin Guide and Hellspark Elemental so I think I kept a slower hand in game 2. He went t3 Ball Lightning, T4 Ball Lightning, t5 Elemental Appeal (soaking two of the damage with a borderland!) dropping me to 2 life. He has a lavaclaw reaches out and 1 card in hand so I’m forced to play Bloodbraid Elf and luckily I hit Blightning stripping him of his own Blightning. He activated reaches and traded with the Elf. I cast a Broodmate Dragon on 6 and he played Hell’s Thunder and traded with one. I cast BLightning leaving terminate mana up and stripped him of his searing blaze, swung in to put him to 8 life. He whiffs the next turn and I drop him to 4. He rips elemental appeal but I had the terminate (and a bit blast if he found burn, to try and cascade into my own burn) and I win while playing all but one of my spells with just 2 life against BURN.

In the top 8 I lost to a pro named Ari Lax in the mirror. I kept a 2 land w/ borderland Ranger hand on the play with a bloodbraid and a goblin ruinblaster with Thrinax and Blightning to boot. I didn’t get there and even though first place was flight and a hotel, second place was an uncut foil sheet of worldwake, third and fourth place got a foil set of worldwake. What’d 5-8 get? THREE PACKS. awesome. I ripped my 4th Quest for the Nihil Stone of the weekend in the WWK pack and burned the other two for warmth.

I have a lot more to say about standard, especially the “Boss” Naya that everyone seems to really like. By now everyone knows that Scott-Vargas whent 17-0 and Tom Ross got the Whammy hitting ninth by two % points. Knight of the Reliquary is not a must have card in the standard environment and dealears at the PT were actually sold out of them accross the board. I’m glad I picked some up when Zendikar first hit because now they’re up to $12. I will say that Knight is now an absolute must kill and you really cannot let Bant and Naya untap with a Knight in play or it’s curtains for you and your spells.

The Naya deck is interesting and I hope I get to take it to some FNMs soon. There is certainly concerns about the mana, as I heard all weekend how those of the CFB guys who ran it and didn’t do well were losing to their mana all day. I decided to chat up Jason about it since all we do is dink around on Gmail all day:

Mike: so you dealt tom ross his only loss.. what are your thoughts on his naya and how is that gonna hold up?

JFord: I mean..its kinda tough to say because it was just one match where both games were basically blowouts. It’s funny…the naya decks mana is worse than jund. I almost think it costs you too much to be playing wild nacatl, but if you cut those then ranger does much much less and so on. It’s another intrinsically powerful deck, but im slantted towards jund just cuz im a fanboy. You also gotta kinda question if the sparksmage/collar thing is too cute or whether it is that sick.

Mike: well it seems sick against these decks that are almost all creatures, the bant that sam black played or even in the mirror where you will exhaust their sejeri steppes right quick.

JFord: this is definitely true. But, then you gotta ask where the metagame stands. He did take down 3 other jund players..so maybe im just a sack haha.

Mike: haha, do they bring in the sparkmages against jund?

JFord: no I dont believe so

Mike: the buzz around the convention center was that the guys on that squad that did bad with the naya lost primarily to mana issues so that does say something.

JFord: yea i mean..the mana is pretty poor
like i said…the deck works pretty hard to make nacatl happen
and its like..is it worht it? Maybe.
But if you cut nacatls for better mana then what is your deck doing?
not a whole lot probably.
also not sure why they’re playing scute mob over dragonmaster outcast, but im sure they know.

Mike: i agree on the nacatl thing, but my big question is why not wooly thoctar. like, I dont see the point of the one drop because you’re mana is so iffy, why not take the approach of the bant decks which is to spit out a big monster on t3? Like knight is fine obviously, but when are you playing your ncatl?

JFord: Well… first, the Ranger of Eos engine.
Secondly, which piggybacks on it, is stoneforge mystic.
Basically, more threat density for your equipment.
Your guys dont have to be THAT good if you can play more/ get them down quicker
because the equipment should trump.

Mike: I guess ranger tutoring up two 3/3s dying to be equipped is good.

JFord: Right. And it lets you do cutesy things like scutes and gives more value to your 1 drops
so i guess its kinda cute..it’s also pretty good

Mike: looking at this naya list its actually pretty good, I hadnt broken it down.
its got some weak cascades though.

JFord: Its got a lot of em, but it isn’t like jund where you’re depending on them either.

Mike: no

JFord: but yea..bloodbraid in jund =/= bloodbraid in naya
not even close

Mike: I just imagine all those times you hit mana birds or a t4 scute mob youre like, “suck”

JFord: Yea, but if you have a hierarch or two down..hasty wooly thoctar?

Mike: I mean yeah that’s an upside……….

Then we started delving into Chapin’s UW List. Something that has a bunch of us here at Power9Pro.com kind of fired up. I think a few of us are going to explore that list quite a bit in the upcoming weeks. I know I already have my Jaces, including a German one, which is pretty sweet.

That’s it for this week. Not sure how I feel about throwing a chat into the article but we’ll keep it spicy. Editing that bear took longer than it would’ve taken to summarize the whole sh’bang. Standard definitely seems a lot of fun right now, and I’m looking forward to playing the standard queues on MTGO as well as some FNMs.

But for now, back to the grind of extended and sleeving up combo elves tomorrow morning in Beantown.

Til next time,

Mike Gemme
mike@power9pro.com
bobbysapphire on MTGO

How to Quest for the Goblin Lord in Standard.

Decks can sometimes come from the most off-handed and reckless thoughts or actions. It seems a fitting occurrence that such impulsiveness would get Goblins into my bag for a trip to our local store’s new “Playtest Tuesday” event. The plan was to have players gather at the store for a couple hours of building, trading, talk, and testing, followed by a brief casual three round swiss tournament. Part of the idea is to try out deck ideas that you maybe wouldn’t want to trot out at FNM, but still want to give a good shake.

My Tuesday afternoon was to be busy and as I’m about to head out the door I looked at all the halfway torn apart decks and my FNM deck and decided this simply would not do. Needing to get out the door, I quickly put together in my head the not-yet-complete Legacy Goblins deck that I’ve been piecing together and a seemingly random Uncommon out of Worldwake: Quest for the Goblin Lord, which I remember being last pick in a recent draft.

Goblins are a competitive consideration for Legacy, made occasional showings in Lorwyn-era Standard, and briefly blipped on the radar shortly after M10 was released. Decks built around the tribe can put out impressive damage very quickly; there was a new card to play with, and I had a core set of cards to pull from already set aside and aching to be played. Besides, the night was to be ideas and semi-casual competition, right?

With around ten minutes of searching and sleeving, I cobbled together the following decklist, although I will admit a certain amount of shame at the poor sideboard that I just slapped together:


I arrived at the store just before the tourney, and I didn’t really get any time for small talk or discussion of the deck. I quickly asked around for my missing Quests, as I only had that single draft reject when I built the deck, and the folks there were plenty happy to be rid of them.

With only three rounds, the night was due to go quickly, but I was excited to try out my contraption against some of the decks I saw there. My matches went Jund, Boss Naya, and ended on UW Chapin. I ask forgiveness as in my haste and the casual nature of the night, I lack detailed notes on each game, and that’s not really the point of this article anyhow, but I will recall briefly what I can.

Jund seemed to suffer from being Jund against the massively fast amounts of damage Goblins could dish out, being slow on mana, and only getting guys down on turn two and three allowed me to quickly roll them. Getting Quest online and dropping Chieftans into play as early as turn 3 didn’t hurt either and Jund stumbling on mana just laid down and died.

Boss Naya, other than the name giving flashbacks to my console gaming days, gave me figurative fits. I quickly applied ludicrous amounts of pressure game one, but quickly came under the hammer, quite literally, as a resolved Behemoth Sledge began to eat my guys and bring the Naya player from burn range to victory in short order. This is where I became grateful for one quick consideration I did make during my speed-building session: Tuktuk Scrapper in the SB.

This little Goblin Ally comes in with a handy Shatter that will handle a Sledge or Basilisk Collar and ping the owner of such implements while he’s at it. My only regret is not having at least one more SB. Thanks to the Scrapper, I take game two. Surprisingly, and thanks to game one’s Naya come back from the brink, game three ends with a draw due to a frantic race in turns with Naya only one (missing) top decked Lightning Bolt away from death.

UW Chapin is a frustrating and strange deck to sit across from. Game one, again I get a high-powered Warren Instigator in before there is anything the opponent can do, and I roll them like a ball downhill. Game two, and for this I kick myself, I fail to consider that the opponent might side in Kor Firewalkers, In my defense, I had not seen the UW Chapin list yet, so I was not fully informed, but I slapped a playset of Unstable Footing in just for such a circumstance.

Quickly applying pressure, I bring him down to the single digits when he drops a Firewalker. I mentally roundhouse myself, but also can’t help but smile at what may be one of my new favorite creatures.  Besides, even with him gaining life and having a protected blocker, my goblin swarm can get damage through, and if I resolve an Eldrazi Monument, the game will be mine. I keep him on low life, even with him countering my guys and gaining from it. Of course this means when I have him at two life he drops another Firewalker.  Thanks to Ruinblaster and Edge eating his manlands, the game goes on till he finally drops Iona, Shield of Emeria with only 2 minutes left in the round. We called it a draw.

Good for a cheap pack, I took this deck to play against some buddies the next night. My goblin horde has eaten a weak Vampire deck, a UB Ally Combo deck, and in the toughest matchup, they lost to a Bant Shroud deck, courtesy of Deft Duelist.

In discussion of the deck, we have considered a couple of splash opportunities, using either Arid Mesa to enable a Stoneforge Mystic package with Firewalker as a possible extension, or going with Scalding Tarn and a package of cheap and unexpected counterspells like Dispel to help power down things in the control match, or fend off opposing removal.

I’m personally leaning towards the white splash, allowing me to do tricks such as the one suggested by fellow Power 9 Pro team member Dillon Wilson, equipping SGC with a Basilisk Collar. Tentatively, I think the package will look something like this:

Out

In

The sideboard needs some help, but I know that I’m going to be looking for at least one more Ruinblaster and Scrapper, likely more Searing Blaze, and possibly a Path to Exile or two. I want to avoid going too Boros, but the power of the Stoneforge Mystic and Basilisk Collar are undeniable, and having a couple non-goblins allows me to run Assaults without leaving the door open. Another great thing is that the Quest for the Goblin Lord only cares about goblins as they enter the battlefield. Once it is online, it’ll gladly give everyone a +2/+0 boost.

Now, I’ll open up another thought or two for feedback which you can leave in the comments below. Should Voracious Dragon take the place of Eldrazi Monument? Should we look at Glory of Warfare instead of the Quest?

I’ve had a lot of fun with this randomly thrown together, Quest-inspired deck and look forward to working on it and making it as strong as possible. Is there a chance that WotC is throwing us a bone here and that the tribal deck that maybe poised to kick Jund off its throne is not Vampires, but rather Goblins? Packing synergy, speed, and power, I really think the little red guys have a decent chance.

Rob J.
P.S. Follow me on Twitter @RobJelf

Naya Boss by LSV: Official Deck Analysis and Discussion

In this video interview with Luis Scott-Vargas, we take a look at the deck strategy and play techniques for the Naya Boss build that propelled LSV to a remarkable 17-1 record at Pro Tour San Diego.

Hear LSV’s reasons for including one Basilisk Collar or Sejiri Steppe

One major comment I have is that back in mid-2009, LSV was claiming that players need to stop trying to play so much mid-range and focus on control. He basically implied that mid-range was a losing strategy. I suppose like everything related to Magic, it’s all format dependent.

Thoughts? Comments? We’d love to hear them in the comments below. :)

Hype, and testing Grixis in Standard

When it comes to Magic: The Gathering, hype is a strange beast. With the universal language of the internet greasing the wheels, a magic meta can spin out of control in a mere 24 hours. I fell into this trap last night playing in the latest online ptq. Today I’m going to take a look at what transpired over the 24 hours leading up to the PTQ and how I bought into the hype and got burned, and then address some of the same issues I’m dealing with in preparing my friend on the Pro Tour for PT San Diego.

Two weeks ago when I top 8′d my first PTQ, the meta was pretty much one deck: Dark Depths / Thopter (DDT). In the two weeks leading up to that tournament, DDT was absolutely dominant and top 8′s were littered with the list all over MTGO. I was more than happy to sleeve up a very fast zoo deck to beat them to the punch; it was such a good meta-call that I could play sloppy whilst drunk and on no sleep and still go 7-1 losing only to running turn 1 blood moons- but I digress.

The last two weeks have seen the online, Extended meta get mixed up a little bit more. There was a bit more dredge, some faeries, and a little zoo but most of the good players online were still playing DDT. I had tested some different zoo builds in that time and mainly not done great, but I finally settled on one with maindeck meddling mages with damping matrix in the sideboard and 3-1′d a daily event the night before the ptq.

When I looked at the decklists from the event the next day, there were a LOT of zoo decks that 3-1′d or better. And then I caught the lists fromt he Premiere event that started at midnight on Thursday morning and six of the top eight decks were zoo with Knight of the Reliquary, most with maindeck Jitte and one with main deck Blood Moon!

Well my friends and I went into crisis mode: we needed Deathmark in the sideboard; I needed Jittes, probably in the maindeck; my Goblin Guide had to be Knight now that it was going to be outclassed. My Gmail inbox was overloaded during my Thursday workday and the two hours after work leading up to the PTQ was crafting the perfect deck to beat Zoo and probably still be good against DDT.

Guess how many Zoo decks I faced: ZERO.
I even dropped a match to DDT, something I’d only done once and mainly do to mulligans.

Would three maindeck Meddling Mage gotten me past my gauntlet last night? Perhaps, I did face Hive Mind, Pox Rock and Thopter Foundry three times. Did Jitte win me any games? Nope. Did I attack once with Knight of the Reliquary last night? Septuple Nope.

I bought into the hype, and I got burned.

A card that has received a ton of Standard buzz lately is Jace, The Mind Sculptor. I’m expecting to have to face this guy tonight at Friday Night Magic as I battle for 90 in store credit so that I can buy my own 1.5 Jaces.

I have had the opportunity to play with and against the Mind Sculptor on Magic Workstation and so far I’m not buying into the hype.

My friend Jason Ford is Qualified for San Diego after his top 50 finish in Austin and we’ve been testing the balls off of Grixis and the new blue cards in Worldwake and here is some of the things we’ve found.

Treasure Hunt is doing just what you want it to. It’s smoothing out your draws and getting you a spell. Sometimes it flips another treasure hunt and it’s kind of lame and sometimes it gets you through three land and hits Earthquake after your opponent cast Martial Coup and has you dead on board.

Calcite Snapper is better than advertised. I’ve been loving this card. It locks down a board that can’t swarm, and when you’re packing 4 Lightning Bolt and 4 Terminate you can probably keep the swarm down. Then, when your opponent over-extends to push through, you can earthquake his team or drop a land and beat in for four.

Then there’s the aforementioned Jace. We’ve played a bunch of games with Jace and I think a blue deck won when he hit the table once, maybe twice. He’s not easy to protect as a Jund player can simply hold his Blightning or Maelstrom Pulse for when a Planeswalker hits the table. And unless you’re scrying for one right when he hits the table (which isn’t very gamebreaking) and Lightning Bolt will do.

Grixis, mainly, has not been cutting it. The deck is no Jund. It can do some fun stuff and has some strong cards but it has struggled to get the win. After some games there are always times where an Earthquake here would’ve won it, or if this Cruel ultimatum was a Sphinx of Jwar Isle the Blue deck likely would’ve won, but Jund doesn’t normally have those games where it couldn’t draw enough to win. What Jund does is unfair, what Grixis does isn’t.

One thing We’ve taken to doing with some of our standard builds is make a list with a bunch of singletons in it, so that we’re constantly hitting different “game plans” and generally get a taste for things that are working and arent. I would say that counters are not working right now, and spot removal is. I think if you’re playing blue and red, then you should pack Double Negative in your 75 because it’s at worst a cancel.

A couple more things about Grixis: you can leave Mysteries of the deep on the bench, you’ve only got 4 fetches in the deck and while instant speed is good, you’re better off just playing divination if you want to draw two cards.

Cruel Ultimatum isn’t that good. When your only 7 creatures have shroud, there’s a damn good chance you’re not getting a guy back from your graveyard. And playing things like Architects of Will is not even remotely the same as packing Mulldrifter like in the days of yore. A number of times the Grixis player has cast Cruel Ultimatum and still lost because it’s not that hard to play around discarding three cards, and in Jund when almost every creature you play is actaully two creatures, sacrificing one doesnt matter.

The thing that is ending games for Grixis is Sphinx of Jwar Isle. No he does not beat Baneslayer Angel but you have answers for that guy in Terminate and Jace. The only thing Jund has for this guy is double blocking with Broodmate Dragon (unless you’re dead on board already), which is pretty darn narrow.

There is some Buzz about using Everflowing Chalice to get you to Nicol Bolas, Planeswalker but that just further turns on your opponent’s maelstrom pulses. I know I’m focusing a lot on Jund right now, but if you’re not beating Vampires with this deck you need to see if you can beat Jund and UWR and we started with Jund. Grixis couldn’t beat it so we mostly moved on.

This is the list I would run if I was going to sleeve up Grixis, using Cruel Ultimatum Only in the Board. This might get you through Jund, but vamps and other control decks are still a major issue.

My opinion is that the blue decks are going to have trouble finishing games no matter what. Sphinx of Jwar Isle is clearly the answer in my eyes, it’s just a matter of getting to him.

For the record, I would just play Jund. Jund may have some issues with Ajani Vengeant and UWR (though I did get a 9/9 Raging Ravine to take out some Wall of Denials), but for the most part Jund isn’t losing much. I’ve been using Jund and beating the control decks at a steady clip, doing it without Great Sable Stag to boot. A lot of your removal is dead against these control decks obviously, but savvy Jund players are terminating their Sprouting Thrinax with Oren Rief out to make a little army in their opponent’s end step to push through damage and kill planeswalkers.

Thanks for reading,

Mike Gemme
Bobbysapphire on MTGO
mike@power9pro.com

Worldwake Set Review – White

Hello and welcome to another Power9Pro set review. It’s that Magical Christmas-morning-like time that happens quarterly for us Magic dorks of the world: Pre-release time. The set has just been completely spoiled, and if you’re anything like us, you’ve been chomping at the bit for the last two or three weeks, at least, Jonesing to play with these new babies.

My fellow teammate and Power9Pro founder James DiPadua is going to be the counterpoint to my points here, hopefully calling me out when I’m way off base (or misreading a card!), and pointing out anything I miss. As is our custom, I’m looking at these cards specifically from the standpoint of Limited except when otherwise noted. My second love is EDH, so you’ll see some comments with that format in mind as well, while James will cover the more constructed-tournament-oriented evaluation of these cards. We’re breaking the cards into color groups this time around, so without further ado, let’s dig in to White.

Just a disclaimer (from James): These reviews are obviously done without any play exposure. Also, at least so far as my reviews, I’m working through them color by color without first seeing what the ‘other colors’ have. Some of my comments need to be taken with that perspective. What we as a collective at Power 9 Pro will do is have a full review afer a week or so of acquainting ourselves better with the cards. So, these reviews are really meant as a “first impression and guide” for Prereleases and any Type2 events you have over the next few weeks.

Admonition Angel
3WWW
Creature – Angel
6/6
Flying
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may exile target nonland permanent other than Admonition Angel.
When Admonition Angel leaves the battlefield, return all cards exiled with it to the battlefield under their owners’ control.
Rarity: Mythic Rare
Set Number: #1/145

Okay, let’s start with a 6/6 Flying for 6 mana. This is already a huge bomb in limited, capable of winning the game on the back of evasion + huge stats. So we’re already dealing with a winner. Now consider the recurring landfall removal… this becomes huge. This spell will often be held until turn 7 so that you can drop the angel and immediately landfall to nuke something. However, unlike Roil Elemental, another 6-drop landfall guy, this creature has a 6 point backside, so it may hit the battlefield on turn 6 a lot more of the time than its predecessor, if you can consider the elemental such. Admonition Angel can also play some tricks with other creatures that YOU, the controller of Admonition Angel, control. If you have a Sphinx of Lost Truths on board, don’t forget that you can crack that fetchland in response to removal pointed at your Admonition Angel, triggering landfall, removing the sphinx, and getting you a free Ideas Unbound of sorts. This won’t happen often, but might be relevant somewhere, sometime. I give this a big thumbs up for the formats I’m concerned with, though I suspect James will say of this creature, as with many (any) new ones, “Baneslayer Angel casts a large shadow”… James?

JAMES

The mana cost is right; it’s not over-costed since it has flying and an exile ability…but it just doesn’t seem right to me. I really don’t like spending 6 mana on something that can be exiled itself…and after it is exiled (say ala Path to Exile) any of the cards I was able to remove with it come right back into, er, the battlefield.
Yeah…sorta lame. Neat from a flavor standpoint but certainly not Type 2

.

Apex Hawks
Cost: 2W
Type: Creature – Bird
Pow/Tgh: 2/2
Rules Text: Multikicker {1}{W} (You may pay an additional {1}{W} any number of times as you cast this spell.)
Flying
Apex Hawks enters the battlefield with a +1/+1 counter on it for each time it was kicked.
Rarity: Common

I find this interesting at common, as the “skies” player should have no problem virtually counting on getting one or more of these. They’re already a flying Gray Ogre, which would already be a premium. But the multikicker makes it more relevant late game. For a mere 7, you get a 4/4 flier: not amazing on its own, but this is the gravy dept. we’re talking about here. This is the bonus free boost to a flying 2/2 for 3 that you’d happily play already.

JAMES

Interesting but expensive if you want it to be anything bigger than a 2/2 with evasion. Kick it once and it’s already the same cost as a Baneslayer Angel. Meh.

Archon of Redemption
3WW
Creature – Archon
3/4
Flying
Whenver Archon Of Redemption or another creature with flying enters the battlefield under your control, you may gain life equal to that creature’s power.
Illus. Steve Belledin
Rarity: Rare
Set Number: #3/145

Archon of Redemption fits the “hiding in Baneslayer’s shadow” bill even more than the angel above, since they share casting costs. However, this is still a fine bomby rare in limited. In the right kind of skies deck, this is both a hard-to-kill flier, and a stall card all in one. You’ll be able to sit back and gain life while you whittle away at your opponents in the air. Very strong here for limited.

JAMES

I certainly agree with Joe’s assessment that it’s going to be good in limited, especially since in mirror matches it can standup to-and kill-your oponent’s Sheppard of the Lost.
So far as constructed, I don’t see a deck that would pay the exact same converted mana cost as the Baneslayer and not play the Baneslayer. Maybe people who aren’t willing to/been-able-to drop the $200 needed to get a playset of BSA?

Battle Hurda
4W
Creature – Giant
3/3
First Strike
Rarity: Common

Hard to evaluate. He’s a turn slow and only blocks well to make up for it. Does he clog the board enough starting on turn 5? He does end up trumping other ostensibly cheaper Hill Giant type 4-drops. I’m not picking this high, but I look forward to seeing whether it turns out to be better than my first impression.

JAMES
This is the Shepard of the Lost’s retarded Giant Cousin…that’s not so Giant. Good at common in the sense that if you need a little something extra, fine. But for constructed play, there’s no place for a rather boring Hill Giant.

Fledgling Griffin
1W
Creature – Griffin
2/2
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, Fledgling Griffin gains flying until end of turn.
Rarity: Common

Should be just fine, another mainstay of a UW flying aggro strategy. This will be a grizzly bear every once in a while, but will usually be, for all intents and purposes, flying to boot. This is the kind of creature that defines limited archetypes. Very solid.

JAME

Mike Flores has been discussing how to break down cards into their effectiveness on a “what you get for the casting cost.” On Twitter today, he asked me to find a case where someone would pay 2cc for a vanilla 2/2. I’m not sure if we can count this as a vanilla 2/2 since it can get the flying. I just wonder if this could be a candidate. But I’d hate to say something like that just because I’m looking for an example to show Flores.
Yeah…this is interesting but it’s uses outside of limited are fairly dubious. Maybe I’m just totally corrupted by really good 2 drops like Tarmogyof, Knight of the White Orchid, Ethersworn Canonist and Kor Skyfisher (to name only a few), that I can’t claim this will see play…

Guardian Zendikon
2W
Enchantment – Aura
Enchant land
Enchanted land is a 2/6 white Wall creature with defender. It’s still a land.
When enchanted land is put into a graveyard, return that card to its owner’s hand.
Rarity: Common

This cycle will really test the common wisdom that auras are inherently weak due to exposing you to two-for-one (241) card disadvantage. If these become heavily played (their effects are all somewhat appealing, and the 241 is mitigated by the land-return policy), then keep your eyes peeled for LD spells, especially instant speed ones. Personally, the effect from these needs to be devastating to justify inclusion. I still think it’s enough of a tempo loss to enchant my land, then lose my creature and get my land back, to risk messing with these guys. A 2/6 defender isn’t arousing me much. As an aside, keep in mind lands with Enters the Battlefield (EtB) effects and/ or sacrificial effects. Dark Depths? Maybe if the right Aura is printed? Probably not, I’m just saying… think outside the box.

JAMES

What is nice about this card/cycle is that it acts as creature while allowing the caster to access the mana. I don’t think this is the one that will be seen in play but it is an half-okay fit for a control player. I don’t think this is “the one.”

Hada Freeblade
W
Creature – Human Soldier Ally
0/1
Whenever Hada Freeblade or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Hada Freeblade.
Rarity: Uncommon
Set Number: #7/145

A 1-drop Ally. Definitely solid to any Ally archetype. Thank you, Dr. Obvious. I’m unsure what else to add here. Allies has always been about critical mass. I think this probably takes the place of a few Makindi Shieldmates and/or the like. Allies will likely remain a playable strategy, especially in times when you force it hard and early and end up one of, if not the, only player in that archetype.

JAMES

Kazandu Blademaster really needed an on-color ally one drop and this could be it but the pool of allies is pretty thin that I don’t see a creature like this making the Ally an archetype in Type2. Allies are pretty strong in drafts if you can pull them off and one thing I’ve noticed is that while Kazandu Blademaster is sweet it’s so conditional on getting more playable Allies. In the end we have to ask ourselves if we’re willing to pay 1cc for a 1/2. Probably not…so my verdict is “keep on looking.”

Iona’s Judgment
4W
Sorcery
Exile target creature or enchantment.
Illus. Mike Bierek
Rarity: Common
Set Number: #8/145

Very solid removal in a color usually lacking it. This will hit any creature, and doesn’t trigger graveyard effects. This will be a high pick despite its high cost, because randomly nuking Quests and such at the last moment will be clutch. Very strong here, IMO.

JAMES

For constructed I don’t see why a person wouldn’t just play Oblivion Ring for one less (yeah, yeah, drawback…but kinda only against Maelstrom Puls and the Jund player would rather use Maelstrom on something…well, better). Are enchantments such a big freaking deal? Not unless your playing against Fruity Loops (or whatever it’s called…the Pyromancers Asscension deck). If enchantments/planeswalkers aren’t your weakpoint, then I suggest Journey to Nowhere or the instant-speed Path to Exile. The bar is pretty high so far as removal in white for constructed play and this just isn’t it…not for 5cc! Play the BSA; that’s removal and lifegain all in one.

Join the Ranks
3W
Instant
Put two 1/1 white Soldier Ally creature tokens onto the battlefield.
Rarity: Common
Set Number: #9/145

Instant speed double-ally trigger. Just keep this card in mind as you play your first limited match against an allies player! In dedicated allies, this goes from “very solid” to “absolutely devastating”. This should usually be the equivalent of a Windborne Charge or a kicked Bold Defense in terms of “I win” potential. Outside its home archetype, this is still very good, posing as white-like removal, letting you surprise block to your advantage.

JAMES

I like the fact that it creates Ally tokens. When I frist read this card a week or so back I didn’t catch the Ally part. Pretty sweet for limited. Again, I’m not sure that an Ally deck is going to be a powerful enough archetype by itself. Jund is still putting up some massively good numbers and this little ally-token maker doesn’t make enough of them to offset the card advantage inherent from Bloodbraid Elf, Maelstrom Pulse, Sprouting Thrinax and Broodmate Dragon.

Kitesail Apprentice
W
Creature – Kor Soldier
1/1
As long as Kitesail Apprentice is equipped, it gets +1/+1 and has flying.
Illus. Austin Hsu
Rarity: Common
Set Number: #10/145

This is tricky to evaluate. With enough equipment, I might consider running this, as it instantly gets evasive and bigger. With an Explorers Scope or a Trusty Machete, for instance, I’m tempted by this guy. Otherwise, I’m hoping I don’t need to fill the early drop hole this bad…

JAMES

I’ve tried building a mono-white soliders deck with a lean toward Kor and a couple of pieces of equipment but was never able to figure out something that was very competitive. I’m not trying to imply that this will be the card that tips the scales but it’s certainly worth toying with if you’ve been playing a wheenie Kor deck (and getting smashed). There are some very decent equipment cards such as Adventuring Gear, Behemoth Sledge and maybe even Bone saw (hey, it’s SUPER cheap–and on a card like Kitsail it’s a rough beating).
–returning back to reality: I’ve always felt that Kor weren’t very good for even limited considering that it’s a new creature type for Zendikar so if i have a Trusty Machete or an Explorers Scope (or both) I could consider taking some Kor knowing that they’ll be lightly drafted. It’s worth testing…but don’t come crying to me if you get your ass whooped. I said that it can be super weak and worth trying out.

Kor Firewalker
WW
Creature – Kor Soldier
2/2
Protection from red
Whenever a player casts a red spell, you may gain 1 life.
Rarity: Uncommon

Wow, this looks like a constructed metagame hoser to me. Seems like a Dragons Claw stapled to a weird, slow poke Silver Knight. Since either of these are already played against certain red decks as sideboard options, we can safely conclude that this card has a similar fate. As for limited, there’s nothing wrong with a Grizzly Bear, and the extra rules text is gravy when it’s relevant. I like it.

JAMES

Pro-red has been really good over the last few years and i expect to see this making the cut. mono-White builds have been sadly underpowered and here we have a creature that can block Bloodbraids, Thrinaxes and Goblin Guides (oh, my!). It is ‘only’ a 2/2 for 2 (aheh, mike…) but I can see this being a great SB selection for that player looking to make a go @ mono-white weenies.

Lightkeeper of Emeria
3W
Creature – Angel
2/4
Multikicker {W}
Flying
When Lightkeeper of Emeria enters the battlefield you gain 2 life for each time it was kicked.
Rarity: Uncommon

Whoa mamma! Nice uncommon here. This is the kind of card that Multi-kick was made for, making what’s already quite relevant and good enough (a 2/4 flier for 4 is solid-to-fantastic in limited, traditionally) relevant when you draw it later and later into the game. In your opener, this is quite good provided you can make drops. Nothing wrong with playing this guy turn 4. But when you top deck this on turn 18, suddenly you’re gaining like 10 or more life. Seems like a bargain for an uncommon. Skies looks like a healthy archetype so far, and it was no slouch in ZZZ either.

JAMES

Interesting but I don’t see this being THAT great. It’s only 2 life and I have to pay a bunch for it. It comes down to this: would I like to kick this a couple of times (or even once if I’m sitting at 5 open lands) and gain 2 life each time OR leave mana open for other options (such as Path, Harms Way, etc)? I think I’d like to have mana available for other things.

THAT means I’m only looking at a 2/4 for 4…barf.

Loam Lion
W
Creature – Cat
1/1
Loam Lion gets +1/+2 as long as you control a Forest.
Rarity: Uncommon

Ah, the fabled “New Kird Ape” cycle. This one looks neat enough. I know a lot of old school Legacy types who will love to play a WG stompy with fetches into Savannah into this guy… but what’s crazy is that this kind of play is only about marginal for such a deck. This guy might have legs in standard too, given the presence of fetches there. I just think he’s pretty sad on turn 1 naked. In limited, it obviously hinges entirely on being on-color, but when he’s on color, he should be a very good foil to the typical ZZZ aggro deck, blocking crap like Vampire Lacerator all day. Also dodges Disfigure and un-kicked Burst Lightning. All ticks in the Pro column for Loam Lion.

JAMES

I’ve also experimented with G/W builds that weren’t quite strong enough and I’ll have to see about adding this in those builds. Having a ’3′ sized butt is nice. This is also worth considering for the Zoo decks that just haven’t been able to keep up with Jund builds…2/3 for 1 really isn’t that bad.

Marsh Threader
1W
Creature – Kor Scout
2/1
Swampwalk
Rarity: Common

If you think this is unplayable, I’ll refer you to Cliff Threader. This is the kind of guy, a 2/1 for 2, that is deceptive… these guys DEFINE limited in almost all limited formats. True story.

JAMES

Pretty nice for limited, sure, but not so great outside of that. The 2 power just isn’t enough to kill that much in this meta…

Marshal’s Anthem
2WW
Enchantment
Multikicker {1}{W}
Creatures you control get +1+1.
When Marshal’s Anthem enters the battlefield, return up to X target creature cards from your graveyard to the battlefield, where X is equal to the number of times Marshal’s Anthem was kicked.
Rarity: Rare

WHAAA? This is a crazy sick mashup of a card. It’s like Glorious Anthem slipped a Flibanserin into the drink of Resurrection, and nine months later, we get Marshal’s Anthem. This card gives me a bit of a res-erection. As a late game bomb, this thing will swing the game for you. It’s mana-into-card advantage. I don’t know what else to say. Compare with the card’s ancestry. Play this thing. Pray you started in W/x when you crack this pack 3. Etc.

JAMES

Hmmmm…it’s not Honor of the Pure which at WW (plus 2 more) is the best comparision (especially because the kick requires TONS of W) but the attrition rate of white decks makes this SORTA appealing. Just sorta. I’ll say this is’nt nearly good enough for constructed. It’s just way too freaking expensive to get anything out of it. (8 mana for two creatures AND +1/+1?? pssshhh, just play [card]Emeria, the Sky Ruin[card] if you need creatures from the graveyard and keep your mana for dropping [card]Captain of the Watch[card] + 1 for Path to Exile)

Perimeter Captain
W
Creature – Human Soldier
0/4
Defender
Whenever a creature you control with defender blocks, you may gain 2 life.
“We stand between the jaws of chaos and the mantle of order”
Rarity: Uncommon
Set Number: #16/145

Again, they’re pushing lifegain in fun new ways. This guy actually fits the bill for the Skies archetype I’ve been obsessing about up until now: it comes down early, stalls the board, and when it finally dies, it usually bumps you up a couple life points, aiding the cause further. I think it’s a good fit for decks that want to stall and/or tie up the board on the ground.

JAMES

This is a good construction card. The weird defenders have been making a good impression on constructed for the last two…three blocks (from Plumveil to Wall of Reverence to Wall of Denial). This one is actually a little better since it has a big enough butt to matter AND buying more time against the aggro builds that U/W control struggles with. I’d definitly put this in my build. It’s also GREAT in limited, skies decks that leverage Kraken Hatchling to stall the ground but needed a little more to help with that…dang, I like this one.

Refraction Trap
3W
Instant – Trap
If an opponent cast a red instant or sorcery spell this turn, you may pay {W} rather than pay Refraction Trap’s mana cost.
Prevent the next 3 damage that a source of your choice would deal to you and/or permanents you control. Refraction Trap deals that much damage to target creature or player.
Rarity: Uncommon

Hmm… obvious constructed (and limited) sideboard options here. I’m not sure I play this main though in limited… however, Shieldmates Blessing got some well deserved play, and in the right deck was quite strong. Then again, that was essentially this card with the trap cost moved to the casting cost. So I dunno… I’m in the air here, but I think this stays in the board for me, and it picked not-too-high.

JAMES

Jesus. Move over Harms Way there’s a new sherif in town. If a player casts a red instant or sorcery? yeah, that NEVER happens…

Rest for the Weary
1W
Instant
You gain 4 life.
Landfall – If you had a land enter the battlefield under your control this turn, you gain 8 life instead.
Rarity: Common

Long time readers (and I know they are legion) will recall that I’m no fan of lifegain in and of itself. I don’t mind incidental or abusive-recursive lifegain, but a spell like this is a waste of a slot in my opinion, even at the ever lower mana costs and ever higher payoffs that are being pushed these days. That said, in the right context, these kinds of spells are great. If you’re just trying to buy time against weenie rush strategies, and your late game is solid, then this is just fine.

JAMES

freaking lame.

Ruin Ghost
1W
Creature – Spirit
1/1
{W}, {T}: Exile target land you control, then return it to the battlefield under your control.
Flavor Text: “Haunting us, these different meanings and spectral beings. We’re fighting sleep with broken, rusted weaponry.”
Rarity: Uncommon
Set Number: #19/145

I like the landfall-as-an-instant mechanic here, which is the entire point of this spell. Should be good enough, and should be picked fairly high. Lots of skies decks will want this. Don’t forget that you can do seemingly innocuous crap like leave only white up, but then shennanigan an island out of and into play, and then use that U mana to counter, and other miscellany like that. This is a new skill testing tricky card that enables LOTS of shennanigans. I think it might be higher picked than some might think. He is a 1/1 though, and you have to have something relevant to do with him. Every draft will have someone who is pumped to have opened this, let’s put it that way.

JAMES

I don’t like spirits that can’t fly so I HATE this card. lol. jk. I think the ability is too slow. It’s just way, way too slow…and do you konw what it’s like to be way, way too slow? Well, I don’t know and you don’t want to. ;)

Stoneforge Mystic
1W
Creature – Kor Artificer
1/2
When Stoneforge Mystic enters the battlefield, you may search your library for an Equipment card, reveal it, and put it into your hand. If you do, shuffle your library.
{1}{W}, {T}: You may put an Equipment card from your hand onto the battlefield.
Illus. Mike Bierek
Rarity: Rare
Set Number: #20/145

Alright, our first EDH must-have! I think every EDH deck that has access to white will likely want this. It’s basically a second copy of Steelshapers Gift or another more narrow copy of Enlightened Tutor. Let’s face it, lots of decks just want to get Umezawas Jitte. These are all redundant copies. Everything aside from the EtB effect is windowdressing. The same kind of scenario plays out in limited. Did you nab a machete? Then he gets the nod.

JAMES

Hmmm, interesting. I also think this might be too slow. Most of the equipments that a Kor creature will want to fetch are cheap enough to cast. Plus, it excludes cards like Sigil of Distinction which is a pretty darn cool equipment…maybe getting Quitus Spike or Umezawas Jitte would be good? I don’t know…I don’t think this is worth playing.

Talus Paladin
3W
Creature – Human Knight Ally
2/3
Whenever Talus Paladin or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may have Allies you control gain lifelink until end of turn and you may put a +1/+1 counter on Talus Paladin.
Rarity: Rare
Set Number: #21/145

Lifelink is huge, despite what I said about lifegain. Lifelink can be thought of as one step across the “is it recursive?” line for lifegain. Anyway, this will make some ally strategies bomb-tastic. However, you’ll have to open it yourself, as most people will take it if they’re on color and not in allies, because a 3/4 for 3W is good enough to hate the card away from anyone who happens to be in allies. I like him.

JAMES

Interesting. This makes me think that mono-W (or splash for something…but not sure WHAT) Allies might not be a complete waste of cardboard. The fact that they get the +1′s is what makes this appealing. It’s too bad it has to stick around long enough to attack…but I guess the Ally deck is going to have to be defensive to start with…maybe with Honor of the Pure? This is wroth toying around with in the lab…at least for five mintues.

Terra Eternal
2W
Enchantment
All lands are indestructible.
Rarity: Rare
Set Number: #22/145

There’s probably a cool combo with this, but I can’t think of it… maybe Legacy 43Land.dec will like this? This will be a recurring comment for me, lol. I know there’s at least one blue card for which the same thought occurred. Anyway, this is lots better when you have a man-land of some kind. Luckily there’s just such a cycle in this set…however, since both are rare, it’ll be… um… rare to see both in limited.

JAMES

I dunno…Legacy is beyond my meta knowledge. I see a LOT of strip mines played in vintage but I dont’ see the vintage players jumping out of their seats for something like this. Meh.

Veteran’s Reflexes
W
Instant
Target creature gets +1/+1 until end of turn. Untap that creature.
Rarity: Common

An awesome combat trick in a color whose removal usually comes in this form. This should be seen as a removal spell. Occasionally you’ll do that magical last point of damage to an unsuspecting opponent. I like it. This should enable many an ambush block.

JAMES

lol. COULD act as a piece of removal but it’s not the best removal in the world…at all. If it gave your creature first strike too, I’d be all about it…but it’s really just border line…

That does it for white. Please chime in down in the comments section to let us know where you agreed and, more likely, where you disagreed with our evaluations. Thanks, and we’ll see you again in the other posts.

Luis Scott-Vargas, Pro Tour Champion and Magic-Strategy Coach

Just this past week, we notified Power 9 Pro customers that we’re launching another series of MtG workshops led by Luis Scott-Vargas. We definitely wanted to keep our blog readers up to date too!

I’m especially excited to have Luis Scott-Vargas on as an instructor/coach with Power 9 Pro. It’s taken a lot of juggling of schedules but we finally figured out all the details just in time for an excellent finish to 2009.

If you don’t know Luis (often endearingly called LSV by the Magic community) from his win at Pro Tour Berlin or numerous top 8′s at multiple GPs and Pro Tour events, you may know him from his “Drafting with LSV” series on YouTube/Channel Fireball. Regardless of how you first heard about LSV, his record is extremely impressive.
His most notable finishes include:

  • 1st – Nationals 2007
  • 1st – GP San Francisco 2007
  • 3rd/4th – GP Philadelphia 2008
  • 1st – Pro Tour Berlin 2008
  • 1st – GP Atlanta 2008
  • 1st – GP Los Angeles 2009
  • 2nd – Pro Tour Kyoto 2009

LSV is a great new addition to the instructor base at Power 9 Pro, where he’ll be able to leverage years of article writing as well as his foray into online video. He’s written content for BlackBoarder and Channel Fireball, conducted interviews with WotC and much more. Power 9 Pro Online Workshops are the next step in LSV’s consistently giving nature that always results in a fostering of the Magic the Gathering community and player base.

There are numerous benefits to the online workshops for players, the most notable of which is summed up by “Learn from the best to be the best.” Truly top-level coaching is hard to come by and here’s your chance to dive deep into relevant discussions on Magic. You’ll have an opportunity to ask questions about what cards to include when evaluating your sideboard options–whether prep’ing for an FNM or Grand Prix Trial. LSV himself is excited to share his insights into drafting Zendikar. His perspectives from over 1200 matches (not counting MTGO!) will be leveraged for your benefit. Don’t miss out on this opportunity. The last workshop of 2009 is a “Deck Doctor” format which means you can send in your deck for LSV to make a list of adjustments. See how he would adjust the card base for optimum results for your deck. Talk about an unique experience!

Here’s an example clip from our recent workshop series led by Ben Lundquist.

You can learn more about the workshops at power9pro.com/workshops or in another recent blog post.

Further information about Luis Scott-Vargas is located at wikipedia.org/wiki/Luis_Scott-Vargas. You can also read some of his latest articles at Channel Fireball where he also does a weekly video-cast called Magic TV. LSV has also written for notable Magic the Gathering strategy sites Black Boarder and Starcity Games, though his writing is exclusively available on Channel Fireball as of early 2009.

FYI, if you sign up for Power 9 Pro’s (very infrequent) newsletter, we’ll send you a mp3 clip with Ben Lundquist discussing the in’s-and-out’s of the Metagame. This single 2 min clip alone will help you make better choices when it comes to what decks to expect at the next tournament and how to track the best decks in a format. We’re happy to provide this as a small sample of what Power 9 Pro aims to accomplish with our workshops.

As always, we want to hear from you. If you have workshop topic requests, thoughts or concerns, feel free to lets us know in the comments. I can also be followed on twitter where I post updates, commentary and discussions with fellow MtG players. :)

Power 9 Pro Online Workshops

In case you’ve heard a little about our Pro-Player workshops or caught one of my tweets about them, I thought I’d post a bit more info and a couple of clips to give everyone a better idea of what we’re putting together over here. After all, I’m a player, always looking to improve my game and imagine there are a lot more players like me out there. I have to admit I certainly don’t have all the exposure or practice these master players do, but I know that excellent coaching goes a long way to improving my game…Like I said, it’s always great to win. :)

Power 9 Pro’s workshops are your chance to get first hand advice and analysis of Magic the Gathering with some of the best players in the world. In addition to real-time streaming, we limit workshop size to 15 people. This gives everyone a chance to ask questions and interact directly with not only the pro instructor but also the rest of the participants. I can personally say that being able to hear and discuss other players’ questions and opinions has led to a number of interesting discussions. No need to be shy but if you prefer to listen and soak in the information, then sit back and relax.

By delivering the workshop over the Internet, everyone can participate regardless of location–your house, office [after hours of course. ;-)], a friend’s place, local shop, or even sandy beach in the tropics. We can always wish! The software connecting everyone is free of charge, guaranteed to be malware free and best-in-industry. After signing up, you will recieve a link with confirmation time and instructions (you just click the link). You can then stream the audio through your computer or dial a toll free number. Simple and convient. All participants will also receive the full video-audio recording for later review. I’ve found this great for reviewing important points. Here are a couple of examples from our most recent workshops with Ben Lundquist.

Our next workshop series will be starting December 8th at 5:30 PST (8:30 EST) with renowned player Luis Scott-Vargas. You can see the full schedule at power9pro.com/workshops/schedule.php .

I’d love to hear your topic requests and any other thoughts you may have, so let us know what you think in the comments. Also, if you sign up for our newsletter, we’ll send you a free mp3 of Ben Lundquist discussing the fluctuations and changes of a Meta-game; great for trying to calculate what deck to play at your next tournament!

Deck Spotlight: Mono White Soldiers

Hello Everyone, and I’m happy to say that I’m fast approaching a glut of magic tournaments. The first Saturday in November is a PTQ, then comes the 2009s (aka provincials) and another PTQ is scheduled for the winter, but a date has not been pinned down.

What does this all mean? It means that most of my spare time is now going to be devoted to becoming better at sealed deck and Standard, which means (hopefully) more frequent articles about my findings.

Today I’ve decided to write about my favourite deck for Standard, which only became a real deck after M10, and my best Standard performance is always with this deck. Maybe it’s just me, but I love the idea of getting 9 power worth of guys for 6 mana. Add on to that one of the best pump effects the game has ever seen, and you’re looking at a pretty solid deck.

The deck, if you’re wondering, is Mono White Soldiers.

I began playing this deck shortly after M10, and I’m pleased to say that it’s still a very strong contender in the new Standard. The funny thing about the deck is that the only cards it really lost in rotation were cads that weren’t actually soldiers. I’m talking about Spectral Procession, Figure of Destiny, and Windbrisk Heights. Obviously this deck loses a lot of potential for the “god hand”, but it still has a very solid game plan, even with aggro’s nemesis Day of Judgment running around.

Lets start off with the decklist that I’ve been running lately.

Mono-White Soldiers

While some of the card choices are obvious, there are a fair few that aren’t so much.

The most controversial card as a four of is actually Captain of the Watch. Many people think that a weenie deck shouldn’t play something so expensive, but I find that the quantity and quality of tokens you produce is much more important than sheer speed. This does not mean that this deck is not an aggro deck, it very much is,it just has a more developed curve than perhaps traditional white weenie. Rather than dropping a bunch of small guys on turns 1-4, and then petering out, this deck keeps going, with it’s late drops supplementing the early drops. With cards like Pyroclasm and Day of Judgment available to wipe the board, it is of the utmost importance to have a play that will more or less put you back where you were after they Wrath. The Captain is the perfect card for this, because it demands yet another immediate answer after they wrath.

We also have a few other cards that really shine after a board wipe. Conquerors Pledge is simply amazing, and it wins so many games that soldiers otherwise couldn’t. Note that I’ve never kicked a pledge, even in my games against Turbo Fog, because soldiers already applies so much pressure that you shouldn’t ever hit 12 land. Pledge is greatly amplified when you have a pump effect out, and makes games just disgusting. I’m considering a fourth copy because they work so well, but I haven’t decided yet.

Super Tech Tip: Playing against Jund? Be very careful as to what token they target with Maelstrom Pulse. Conquerors Pledge produces Kor Soldiers, while Elspeth and co. produce garden variety Soldiers. For this reason, make sure you have different types of tokens, and you don’t short change yourself.

Back pre-Zendikar, this deck had 2-3 Ranger of Eos, and it was great for both card advantage and getting back into the game. However, he was able to search for Figure of Destiny, which was often a much better target than Elite Vanguard. Thus, I cut the Rangers down to 1 and added in the random Baneslayer Angel. It randomly wins games, and is one more great topdeck you can draw into. Note that I only have 1, and I haven’t really considered any more, even if I could get them.

In pre-Zendikar standard, the deck played a full set of Harms Way, and was able to blow out most decks with it. Unfortunately, due to the rising threat of Baneslayer Angel and Vampire Nocturnus, It has been necessary to have at least some spot removal in the main deck.

Elspeth is a card that I feel has gotten more powerful with rotation. There is now almost no chance of her getting countered, and the impact she has on the board is just amazing. I actually find myself getting more value out of pumping an existing soldier and swinging in for usually 5+ points of damage than I do from making another soldier. However, it depends greatly on the game state.

Super Tech Tip: When playing against vampires, don’t be afraid to just run out Elspeth or Ajani when they have a Vampire Hexmage out. Simply announce that you wish to retain priority, use an ability, and let them die. The fact that you get rid of a 2/1 first striker (and a potential 4/2 with Nocturnus), is actually quite important in the vampire matchup, and getting an ability off is quite nice. Note that Elspeths are generally more valuable than Ajanis, so if you fear a Hexmage, it’s generally better to let the cat die off first. Of course, If you already have a sizable army, you could very well wish to do it the other way around for more rounds of pumping, but normally Elspeth should be conserved.

Brave the Elements is one of my favourite cards from Zendikar. It enables a sense of assurance that you can deal with whatever your opponent throws at you, whether they be removal spells of blockers, you can save your guys for the small price of one mana. This is another card I’m considering playing more of in the mainboard, it’s just that good.

With the loss of Windbrisk Heights, I looked to see what other non-basics couls spice up the deck’s mana base. I could play fetchlands, but see little positive benefit to me, whereas vampires can use them to trigger the effects of Bloodghast and Vampire Nocturnus. However we have no such effects here. With cards like Black Knight and Malakir Bloodwitch running around, it is crucial that we have some form of answer. Gargoyle Castle is good at stopping a late-game Knight, and it also chumping a Bloodwitch. If you can get an Ajani counter onto the gargoyle, all the better for the long haul.

Emeria, the Sky Ruin is for the long games against control decks. Being able to recur Captain of the Watch every turn is prety good. It also gives you something to aim for when you keep drawing plains. I’m tempted to drop it down to one, but then you run the risk of not drawing it in the matchups where you need it most.

Vampires is probably this decks worst matchup, while Jund is actually quite good both pre and post board. Cards like Kazandu Blademaster are just great at blocking Bloodbraid Elf, and your guys quickly get so strong that they even force them to chump with Broodmate Dragon. Here’s what I generally board against Jund.

In:
2 Path to Exile
3 Celestial Purge
2 Ethersworn Canonist

Out:
2 Harm’s Way
1 Ranger of Eos
2 Elite Vanguard
2 Ajani Goldmane

Against Vampires we have a great deal of cards we bring in. We must simplify the board state as much as possible so that we don’t take too much damage from a resolved Nocturnus. This means making lots of one for one trades in the early game, and eventually out-aggroing them. Thus, White Knights and Kazandu Blademaster are serving double duty on both offense and defense, and you have to out aggro them. If they don’t have board slots targeted at white weenie, your job becomes infinitely easier.

In:
2 Path to Exile
3 Celestial Purge
2 Brave the Elements
4 White Knight

Out:
2 Harm’s Way
1 Ranger of Eos
4 Elite Vanguard
3 Captain of the Watch
1 Veteran Armorsmith

In the mirror match, you have to be faster than your opponent, and make profitable trades. Thus a full set of Harms Way is needed, as well as Brave the Elements are the best things you can possibly have, but your opponent will have them also, so it becomes a very skill-intensive match.

In:
2 Harm’s Way
2 Brave the Elements

Out:
2 Path to Exile
1 Ranger of Eos
1 Elite Vanguard

These are the 3 decks that have been doing well at my local store, and I believe that white weenie is extremely powerful because few people see it coming. It’s favourable matchup against Jund is one of the most attractive things about it, and it has a good shot against Vampires after board.

Oh, and you auto-win against turbo fog as I found out last FNM. Just play out enough guys to win, and conserve your hand. Emeria shines, and no matter how many Wrath effects they have you still win.

What decks have you guys been playing lately? Is there anything awesome and fun you think I should take to FNM? Sound off in the comments, through my email (zak -AT- power9pro.com), or via my twitter feed at www.twitter.com/zturchan.

Cheers,

Zak

Zendikar Card Review batch 04 (249/249)

Welcome to the fourth and final batch of Zendikar preview cards.  We’d like to take a moment to thank the tireless folks at mtgsalvation for their work on the spoilers we’ve all come to know and love.

Below you’ll find the first impression, knee-jerk reactions of myself and my teammate James, upon seeing these cards for the first time.  As usual, James is focused on constructed formats, specifically block, standard, and extended, while I evaluate the cards in the paradigm of limited, with a smattering of commentary related to EDH and legacy.  Without further ado, here come the cards!

Bold Defense – 2W
Instant (Common)
Kicker {3}{W}
Creatures you control get +1/+1 until end of turn. If Bold Defense was kicked, those creatures get +2/+2 and first strike instead.

JOE

This is a good execution of the kicker mechanic.  The card has a decent ability, but at a slightly increased mana cost than you’d usually find, in this case, we can compare the card to glorious charge.  In exchange for this nerfed initial ability, you get a card that doesn’t lose as much relevance in the late game.  When you top-deck this card later on, when you actually have seven mana, suddenly it’s a much more powerful combat trick.  This is a well rounded trick and will be commonly seen in white decks lacking harder removal.

JAMES
I don’t see this being good enough. I’d rather just play Glorious Charge and have some mana left open for 2nd main phase shenanigans–or more Attack phase shenanigans like a Harms Way. That being said, I haven’t run Glorious Charge in any constructed decks…maybe I should! That’d give me a better benchmark on this card. My gut tells me Bold Defense is just over-costed for the affects.

Caravan Hurda – 4W
Creature – Beast (Common)
Lifelink
1/5

JOE

This creature’s raison d’etre is to stall the ground while your fliers and other evasive creatures push through the winning damage.  Creatures like this epitomize what’s known loosely as a “skies” archetype, traditionally found in the UW color combination.  A 1/5 lifelink is a real bummer for an opposing green mage whose early drops become less appealing.  He does what he does, and that’s great.  Just don’t mistake the deck he belongs to.  This guy is out of place in a curve-conscious aggro white deck, but at home with a slower, more controlling WU skies type deck.

JAMES
Seems great for limited but the 5cc for constructed is underwhelming.
comment

Cliff Treader – 1W
Creature – Kor Scout (Common)
Mountainwalk
2/1

JOE

He’s not a bad grizzly bears kind of guy… 2-drop with 2 power.  This cost and power define the white aggro decks, and some limited formats in general.  He’s randomly superb against red opponents, but will often be maindecked just because his power and CMC are right for your curve.

JAMES
I like this for constructed, SB in particular. I really wish it was Pro-Red because it would be some serious SB-beats against a red deck. Mountainwalk just isn’t enough; oh well…

Kor Duelist – W
Creature – Kor Soldier (Uncommon)
As long as Kor Duelist is equipped, it has double strike.
1/1

JOE

An interesting card.  He seems to be an improvement upon boros swiftblade, a card which was always suited up anyway.  I’m guessing he’s got more applications in constructed, but will occasionally make an appearance in limited as well.  Again, this is a card with a proper home.  His proper home is the aggro archetypes, and obviously he’s more appealing with a trust machete or whatnot.  Every so often, you might run him sans equipment if your curve really wants to be as low as possible.

JAMES
Umezawas Jitte and Sword of Fire and Ice really like this guy. He’s so cheap. Too bad the stack-in-combat’s been removed. Previously we could have removed charge counters from the Jitte after the firststrike damage was done, and pumped our guy to keep him around (and do more damage) during ‘normal combat damage.’ Alas, we’re stuck with the current rules [probably perpetually from here on out--or so we should assume]. What sort of stinks is that he’s pretty conditional and equipments do cost a fair bit of mana to get going. The only equipment I could see effective on a creature like this is the Bone Saw which you could play and equip without too much disruption to your normal curve-creature-drop. Behemoth Sledge is also on-color and would offer considerable tempo but it wouldn’t come into play until at least turn 4. In the end, I’m trying to keep an open mind about this creature but my main concern is that activating the doublestrike requires quite the investment. I mean, let’s face it; the two equipments I cited (Jitte & Sword) are a couple of the best equipments printed thus far, so they’re for the most part good on any creature. Doh, I guess I have to say “nope, not good enough.”

Landbind Ritual – 3WW
Sorcery (Uncommon)
You gain 2 life for each Plains you control.

JOE

Lifegain, though more popular now than perhaps ever, has never been my cup of tea.  I can’t see running this card in limited, nor constructed.  However, I’m a bad person to ask about this card.  I suppose it’s capable of gaining you 10 life for 5 mana under ideal conditions.  Some people may think that’s worth it… I just don’t.  I’d much rather have a card which advances my board position or reduces my opponent’s.

JAMES
I don’t see lifegain as worth it unless it changes the board state. As it is, gaining life just to gain life isn’t worth it. If you’re dying, just play the new Day of Judgment and reset the board. I mean, Kitchen Finks is so awesome because you’re gaining life on top of presenting an efficient beat-stick (with persist which is just amazing). This does nothing of the sort…

Makindi Shieldmate – 2W
Creature – Kor Soldier Ally (Common)
Defender
Whenever Makindi Shieldmate or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Makindi Shieldmate.
0/3

JOE

I’m none too stoked about the Defender ability on this guy.  He’ll be played to attain a critical mass of allies at times, but I sure would rather have more copies of the blue ally with the same ally-ability, only having flying rather than defender and starting as a 1/1 rather than an 0/3.  That common ally will be nuts.  This one is kind of a dud, but critical mass is critical mass.

JAMES
Boo.

Noble Vestige – 2W
Creature – Spirit (Common)
Flying
{T}: Prevent the next 1 damage that would be dealt to target player this turn.
1/2

JOE

A forgettable spirit, this… Spirits are a creature type I’ve been following closely since creating my Ghost Council of Orzhova EDH deck.  I shall not be including this creature therein.  It does have evasion, which is a plus, though his ability is pretty weak.  Sometimes a 1/2 flier for 2W makes the cut, but I’m always hoping for better.

JAMES
Underpowered in a world of crazy goodness. Find a better creature. ;-)

Pillarfield Ox – 3W
Creature – Ox (Common)
2/4

JOE

Ox?  Really?  A new creature type for Ox?  Not “Bovine” or something?  Meh.  “Mammal?”  Nope.  Ox.  Oh well.  Whatever.  This guy’s less exciting to me than hill giant, unless I desperately need another ground-staller in a skies deck.

JAMES
Not so horrible in limited but pretty boarderline. Probably a late pick but we should all be aiming for better 4 drops. I see no reason to include this in any constructed decks.

Shieldmate’s Blessing – W
Instant (Common)
Prevent the next 3 damage that would be dealt to target creature or player this turn.

JOE

Strictly worse than healing salve is not the kind of endorsement you’re looking for.  This card sucks ass, people.

JAMES
I can get behind this–exact opposite of Joe!!111!!! lol. It’s cheap and prevents all damage from a Lightening Bolt. I don’t see a reason for not playing this in limited where you can bluff or create a creature attrition situation. It’s one less than Harms Way but loses the ability to redirect. Because of that, I think Harm’s Way will remain the constructed include but I wouldn’t be all to surprised to see this in a constructed deck. It’s not the worst card in the world. What is the worst card in the world? I’m going to ask on Twitter now! lol

Sunspring Expedition – W
Enchantment (Common)
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a quest counter on Sunspring Expedition.
Remove three quest counters from Sunspring Expedition and sacrifice it: Gain 8 life.

JOE

If you want lifegain, use this rather than Landbind Ritual.  If they use removal on this, consider it a success for you.  I won’t be playing this card.

JAMES
Same comment as on Landbind Ritual (above).

Lethargy Trap – 3U
Instant – Trap (Uncommon)
If three or more creatures are attacking you, you may pay {U} rather than pay Lethargy Trap’s mana cost.
Attacking creatures get -3/-0.

JOE

Not terrible, I guess.  You can sometimes get favorable combat exchanges, making trades your opponent accepts into pure losses, but this isn’t likely to make the cut in my decks either.  The trap cost will probably be turned on fairly often, but I still don’t feel very warm and fuzzy about the card.  If this is the level of trick you’re resorting to, is blue really that strong for you?

JAMES
This looks pretty good for an Esper-Control style deck. I’m not exactly sure if token-based decks will be around much longer but there’s certainly an opportunity for a Solider deck developing from the cards printed in M10 and Zendikar so being attacked by 3 creatures is all together possible. The trap cost makes it pretty sweet for U/Esper decks since it’s cheap and will leave room for casting Esper Charm @ EOT (for example). We’re entering a new Extended format where Zoo looks poised to make a strong finish. Zoo is essentially “the” aggro deck of the upcoming Meta and from discussions with Ben Lundquist this past Wednesday the Meta-cycle starts with a ‘big splash aggro deck’ [deck X] transitioning to a control-style deck [deck Y] and then decks geared to beat the control deck [deck Z]. From this POV, I say this looks good for people considering Fairies for the upcoming extended season where it’s likely to have 3 creatures attacking. Even the creation of a one-turn Fog for U can be enough for stabilization to occur. The single-Blue commitment for Trap/Non-Trap casting also makes it very splash-able.

Merfolk Seastalkers – 3U
Creature – Merfolk Wizard (Uncommon)
Islandwalk
{2}{U}: Tap target creature without flying.
2/3

JOE

Whoa.  This is deceptively powerful.  Tapping a single creature makes for a solid utility creature.  Being able to tap multiples in the late game is fairly crazy.  The stats aren’t terrible either, given he has islandwalk.  This one gets a big nod.  Thumbs up.

JAMES
I don’t see how it’s goign to tap multiple creatures late game…What am I missing on this one? Anyway, tapping down creatures in limited is pretty good but I worry the cost is too high–its 300% the cost of Blinding Mage for example. From what we’ve seen of Merfolk in this set, I believe there are better options for constructed play.

Seascape Aerialist – 4U
Creature – Merfolk Wizard Ally (Uncommon)
When Seascape Aerialist or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, Allies you control gain flying until end of turn.
2/3

JOE

Cool… this is a great ally to build around.  Evasion is something a lot of allies lack.  Giddy up.

JAMES
Pretty interesting for an Ally. Since Allies all trigger off each other, we can assume we’re getting at minimum +1/+1 to our other allies. Swinging in with a big team of flying, pumped up creatures sounds good in my head but a lot of flop ideas sounded good in people’s heads and ended up being duds. (Spam comes to mind but that’s just me). Test it out for block, for shiz.

Shoal Serpent – 5U
Creature – Serpent (Common)
Defender
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, Shoal Serpent loses defender until end of turn.
5/5

JOE

Serpents in blue are usually piss poor creatures that have some weird ability to seem appealing despite that fact.  Hmm… let’s see.  6-drop 5/5… not bad.  Sometimes attacks… I dunno.  I’m on the fence here.  Blue just usually doesn’t want to go in the fatty direction, though it will be easier to pair with green than ever.  I just think this ends up sitting the bench in favor of far better creatures more often than not, but it’s probably more playable than a lot of Serpents in the past.

JAMES
I got nothing.

Spreading Seas – 1U
Enchantment – Aura (Common)
Enchant land
When Spreading Seas enters the battlefield, draw a card.
Enchanted land is an Island.

JOE

Almost never relevant, almost never played.  If you’re doing island walk shenanigans with this, you’ve probably failed a skill test somewhere in there.  At least this cantrips.  God willing, I’ll never play this card.

JAMES
It’s better than Seas Claim…if that means anything. lol.

Bog Tatters – 4B
Creature – Wraith (Uncommon)
Swampwalk
4/2

JOE

I’d say it’s a sideboard card against black at best.  4/2 is too dang vulnerable on 5.  No thanks.

JAMES
Might see play in limited, as Joe mentioned, restricted to SB where it would potentially shine. Otherwise, it’s way too expensive for its stats.

Crypt Ripper – 2BB
Creature – Shade (Common)
Haste
{B}: Crypt Ripper gets +1/+1 until end of turn.
2/2

JOE

I like this Shade alright.  Haste is a nice ability in my book… it’s often what helps you swing the tempo race back into your favor.  Shades are decent in general, and this one has a decent cost.  Just look at loch korrigan.  I dunno… in some decks, I definitely run this dude, but it’s always when I’m heavy black (thank you Dr. Obvious).

JAMES
This wouldn’t be bad in a limited deck but I don’t think at 4cc it’s worth the affects for constructed. In its favor, here are the advantages: On turn 4 it’s a 2/2 Hasty (obviously). Late game (and this is what i mean by in “its favor”), it’s a hasty that you can pump for more damage–let’s say a 4/4 hasty. Not horrible. It is a threat in and of itself. Very, very borderline. I’d rather play the new Specter, Guul Draz Specter for 4cc. But that’s just me.

Guul Draz Vampire – B
Creature – Vampire Rogue (Common)
As long as an opponent has 10 or less life, Gull Draz Vampire gets +2/+1 and has intimidate. (It can’t be blocked except by artifact creatures and/or creatures that share a color with it.)
1/1

JOE

Looks like Wild Nacatl got bitten by a vampire or something.  This one’s solid and interesting.  The fact that he’s a piddly 1/1 early makes him far worse than nacatl, but later on, he’s the same size as the kitty cat, but with Intimidate, the new fear.  Evasion is nice, especially for little guys later in the game.  I think the vampire deck looks mighty sexy in this format.  We’ll see.

JAMES
Not horrible. It’s pretty decent mid-game and Intimidate might make this worth having 2x in a deck. I mean a 3/2 “fear” (which intimidate is in this case) for one is not bad. The casting cost lets us play another spell, it’s splash-able, etc. I see some advantages to this little common but probably restricted to block play.

Hagra Crocodile – 3B
Creature – Crocodile (Common)
Hagra Crocodile can’t block.
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, Hagra Crocodile gets +2/+2 until end of turn.
The creatures of Zendikar are opportunists, eating whatever is available to them. Like goblins. Or boats.
3/1

JOE

5/3 on the attack for 4.  That’s good stats.  Fits into a suicidal black all-in kind of aggro deck.  Something about this guy doesn’t jive with my own style, but I definitely see him being played… paired with green to abuse landfall, this guy might well have a spot on 4.

JAMES
I see this in limited but not making it to constructed. I just see better 4-drops in Mono-Black (such as Vampire Nocturnus

Heartstabber Mosquito – 3B
Creature – Insect (Common)
Kicker {2}{B} (You may pay an additional {2}{B} as you cast this spell.)
Flying
When Heartstabber Mosquito enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, destroy target creature.
2/2

JOE

Playable / decent without kicker, and with late game relevance (and how!) due to the kicker ability.  This is a saweet common for black.  No holds barred creature destruction for 2B more?  Awesome.

JAMES
I wish the casting costs were reversed. It’s too pricey as a 4-drop. It’s also pretty dang expensive for a 7 drop. Probably not the worst card in limited but there are [again] better options for limited.

Marsh Casualties – BB
Sorcery (Uncommon)
Kicker {3}
Creatures target player controls get -1/-1 until end of turn. If Marsh Casualties was kicked, those creatures get -2/-2 instead.

JOE

Yet again, this is a good spell without kicker that gets better later on with the kick.  Building a deck around this will be easy, and sweepers like this card are often what win you the game.  I’m guessing this is a very high pick for anyone who opens a sweet black rare, and might draw other people into black too, if infest and the like are any kind of historical indicator.

JAMES
Not bad at 5cc since you can wipe the board but (obviously) Infest is WAY better.

Mindless Null – 2B
Creature – Zombie (Common)
Mindless Null can’t block unless you control a Vampire.
2/2

JOE

gray ogre with a drawback?  I’m only playing him in a very-heavy vampire deck.

JAMES
Nope. Not good enough.

Nimana Sell-Sword – 3B
Creature – Human Warrior Ally (Common)
Whenever Nimana Sell-Sword or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may put a +1/+1 counter on Nimana Sell-Sword.
“He asked if I had work for him. No wasn’t the right answer.”
- Samila, Murasa Expeditionary House
2/2

JOE

Hill Giant on his own means he’s playable with or without allies.  Obviously with allies is preferable, since he then helps critical mass and isn’t dead / weak on his own.  Top notch common ally here.

JAMES
I’m really not down with these expensive 3/3′s (and 2/2′s). I guess the “advantage” to these is the ally trigger but that’s soooooo situational. I’m a doubter.

Surrakar Maurader – 1B
Creature – Surrakar (Common)
Landfall – Whenever a land enters the battlefield under your control, Surrakar Maurader gains intimidate until end of turn.
2/1

JOE

Meh.  Bear-ish.  Bear-cub.  I’m not too stoked on him, but in aggro decks, you take bears and whatever evasion you can, even if it only works most of the time.

JAMESDecent early game, dud late.

Bladetusk Boar – 3R
Creature – Boar (Common)
Intimidate
3/2

JOE

I guess for constant Intimidate, I’ll accept a loss of toughness off hill giant.  This one’s not bad.

JAMES
This is fine for limited but R wants more than this in constructed paly.

Goblin Shortcutter – 1R
Creature – Goblin Scout (Common)
When Goblin Shortcutter enters the battlefield, target creature can’t block this turn.
2/1

JOE

Interesting bear here too.  All these bears are right on the borderline between playable and “meh”, but the ones like this with a sometimes relevant ability are okay in certain decks.  Being a goblin helps his stock too.  I dunno… I play him sometimes, but he’s not among the first creatures I’m putting into deck slots.

JAMES
This is pretty good late game in limited when you want to squeeze a fatty through for the win or experiencing locked board positions. Off a Bloodbraid Elf this isn’t so bad–but hell, isn’t everything good off a Bloodbraid?

Highland Berserker – 1R
Creature – Human Berserker Ally (Common)
Whenever Highland Berserker or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, you may have Ally creatures you control gain first strike until end of turn.
2/1

JOE

This is an awesome early-drop ally, and an example of a bear I’d probably run unless he’s my only ally.  I’d usually rather have him than the shortcutter above unless I had some sick goblin deck going.

JAMES
This is a pretty good ally. I would figure to see this in block–but I’m not sure what colors will rule supreme for allies in block (and it’s DAMN early to call block cards since we’ve only got this first set out).

Inferno Trap – 3R
Instant – Trap (Uncommon)
If you’ve been dealt damage by two or more creatures this turn, you may pay {R} rather than pay Inferno Trap’s mana cost.
Inferno Trap deals 4 damage to target creature.

JOE

This is quite solid removal.  Probably a decently-high pick for red.

JAMES
Not bad, not bad. Two creatures might be asking a lot and you’re only removing one of them. Still in limited this might be a good play. I’d pick it up were I in-color.

Magma Rift – 2R
Sorcery (Common)
As an additional cost to cast Magma Rift, sacrifice a land.
Magma Rift deals 5 damage to target creature.

JOE

I don’t know what to make of this one.  The removal is good, since 5 damage will deal with a lot.  But the downside is huge, losing a land.  This will depend entirely on the curve of the deck in question.  If I want to get to 7 eventually, there’s no way I run this.  If I top out at 5, it’s a different story.

JAMES
Nah, that’s okay. Were it creature or player, I’d say we’ll see this in Austin as a mono-red include but as it is, this sucks.

Mark of Mutiny – 2R
Sorcery (Uncommon)
Gain control of target creature until end of turn. Put a +1/+1 counter on it and untap it. It gains haste until end of turn.

JOE

Interesting.  This is a little worse than act of treason, since you hand the guy back slightly bigger.  Still, this will win you some games when played at the right moment.  And obviously, this is sick with any kind of creature sacrifice outlet.

JAMES
EEek. you better be winning with this or it’s toast for you. Gain control, put a counter on it, get your “damage in” and then hand them a bigger, better creature? No thank you.

Molten Ravager – 2R
Creature – Elemental (Common)
{R}: Molten Ravager gets +1/+0 until end of turn.
0/4

JOE

Not interested.  Good blocker, but yeah… I’m not into this kind of guy.

JAMES
Not horrible in limited. Not at all. Big ass means that your opponent has to block or risks you tempo-ing them out. It’s pretty cheap too at 3cc. I don’t see this making waves in constructed play though.

Seismic Shudder – 1R
Instant (Common)
Seismic Shudder deals 1 damage to each creature without flying.

JOE

This will be really awesome as a splash card in flying-based decks.  As a sweeper, it will see play in a lot of decks, actually, but some red decks have too many X/1s themselves to be comfortable with this, so I’m guessing this sees the most play in decks that aren’t base-red.

JAMES
Doh, had a comment then re-read it. ‘Without flying’ is not the same as ‘With Flying.’ Pass.

Shatterskull Giant – 2RR
Creature – Giant (Common)
4/3

JOE

Well hell, this is basically a better hill giant.  Paying R instead of 1 is a bargain for that extra point of power.  Playable as hell.

JAMES
Not good enough for constructed play.

Slaughter Cry – 2R
Instant (Common)
Target creature gets +3/+0 and gains first strike until end of turn.
“Since when did ‘AIIIEEEE!’ become a negotiation tactic?”
- Nikou, Joraga bard

JOE

This is as removal-like as combat tricks can get.  It’s almost always going to kill a creature in combat, and every once in a while might steal a game in an alpha strike.  Good common.

JAMES
Great shenanigan card. Act like you’re chumping and then remove the creature? Not bad but probably not quite good enough for constructed play.

Spire Barrage – 4R
Sorcery (Common)
Spire Barrage deals damage to target creature or player equal to the number of Mountains you control.

JOE

seismic strike can only hit creatures, so that’s why this gem is 2 more.  I think it’s worth it in a base-red deck.  Lava axe has won me some games, and this is way more versatile, but every bit as capable of doing 5 to end the game.  This gets the nod (in red).

JAMES
Slightly too expensive for constructed play. It’s also conditional since you can’t really splash for this in constructed. For extended you don’t even want 5 mountains in play. That’s too many.

Torch Slinger – 2R
Creature – Goblin (Common)
Kicker – {1}{R}
When Torch Slinger enters the battlefield, if it was kicked, it deals 2 damage to target creature.
2/2

JOE

Shades of Flametongue Kavu here.  This is gray ogre early, and lets you shock too later on.  solid.

JAMES
One more than Murderous Redcap and lacking in persist. Bummer.

Joraga Bard – 3G
Creature – Elf Rogue Ally (Common)
Whenever Joraga Bard or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, all Allies you control gain vigilance until end of turn.
1/4

JOE

Well, it’s none too exciting, but this is another ally to help attain that critical mass I keep talking about.  I’m guessing that you’ll be rolling if you have more than 6 allies, and a creature that’s worse than another but has the ally creature type will sometimes make the cut for that reason.  If you already have 6 other allies that are decent, I dunno… I still might play him.  It’d really depend on the other options there, but this won’t be among the first allies I line up for inclusion.

JAMES
Not the worst of the allies and far from the best.

Tajuru Archer – 2G
Creature – Elf Archer Ally (Uncommon)
When Tajuru Archer or another Ally enters the battlefield under your control, Tajuru Archer deals damage equal to the number of Ally creatures you control to target creature with flying.
1/2

JOE

Whoa… this guy’s very cool.  A cheap ally which helps green-based ally decks combat their historical nemesis, fliers.  Good stuff.

JAMES
A great sb include for block-constructed going Allies. Ausser-dass, ich sehe nichts.

Tanglesap – 1G
Instant (Common)
Prevent all combat damage that would be dealt this turn by creatures without trample.

JOE

Weird.  Usually a fog, but in the color of trample, sometimes it’ll be more like safe passage or something.  Conditionally awesome, usually marginal.  I like my tricks to do more than buy me a turn most times.

JAMES
Weird. Definitely worth considering in a limited deck since as we’ve seen (or you should have seen) Safe Passage is very playable in limited. I don’t see the point in constructed.

Timbermaw Larva – 3G
Creature – Beast (Common)
Whenever Timbermaw Larva attacks, it gets +1/+1 until end of turn for each Forest you control.
2/2

JOE

Hmm… I guess he’s hill giant or better on the attack, but in exchange he’s vulnerable the rest of the time.  Probably has a time and place to shine.

JAMES
Sits around as a 2/2 but probably swings on T4 as a 4/4. (assuming dual-color decks). In mono-G, this is a pretty good beat stick. I just wish it was bigger than a 2/2. Maybe a 1/3 or something would make me feel safer. Otherwise, I feel like I’d be paying four for a creature that’s going to get zapped. Meh, just play Garruk Wildspeaker at the same casting cost.

Vastwood Gorger – 5G
Creature – Wurm (Common)
5/6

JOE

Weak.  Not my thing, but occasionally necessary when you’re the fatty deck and lack enough fatties… but wait… why are you the fatty deck then?  I dunno… 5/6 is pretty beefy.  It might see play, but I’m guessing it’ll usually be reluctant play.

JAMES
Fine in limited since it’s obviously going to apply significant pressure. Not good enough for constructed.