Born Of The Gods Excitement

Three-time Grand Prix Top 8 competitor Josh Ravitz talks about a few cards from Born of the Gods that he’s excited to try. What’s your favorite new card?

I spent this past week preparing for the Grand Prix in Vancouver that is the current and for all intents and purposes lame-duck Standard format. Somehow the format seemingly hasn’t changed in years, and while we’re on the verge of getting new cards (and thus a new format), we’re not quite there yet. Cedric thought you would rather read about new cards than about the old format, and I’m inclined to agree. I wasn’t excited to write about the Grand Prix or the preparation for it, but there’s some interesting stuff to tie in so it isn’t all lost.

I spent most of the week considering playing a G/R Nykthos deck very close to the one that made Top 8 of the Pro Tour in Dublin. The list looked like this:

We tinkered with the sideboard and figured out that overall the deck was just too weak to Pack Rat. The reason I’m talking about the deck is because it’s the perfect home for a card that no one has (so far to my knowledge) discussed as something they’re excited about, and that card is Courser of Kruphix.

Courser of Kruphix evokes Oracle of Mul-Daya for me, which was very dreamy in conjunction with Jace, the Mind Sculptor during their tour of duty in Standard a few years back. This card has a few things going for it. It’s a 2/4 for 1GG, which means it’s a reasonable blocker and won’t die to a stray Lightning Strike (Oracle of Mul Daya was not particularly robust in a world with Lightning Bolt all those years ago.) That means you don’t need to worry about it dying when you need it to hit your land drops, which is great. It’s also got built in life gain, which is good—although again this deck doesn’t especially care about this, another deck might really want to gain that life to stabilize and continue playing spells.

The above decklist has a giant gap at three mana and a few cards that don’t quite belong. In addition to this, it has four "scry lands," which could really be five (playing a Temple of Mystery over a Forest is what we settled on in the end), and it has two Nylea, God of the Hunts, which is an incredibly weak card, as well as two Scavenging Oozes, which is a nice card but probably not good enough to maindeck. It’s an easy swap.

At 1GG, this card not only fills in the mana curve (the deck has four Domri Rades and nothing else to do at three mana), but it also has incredible synergy with the Temples and Domri himself. Certainly if you know there is a creature on top you should play Domri to get it into your hand. Similarly, you can scry with a Temple and manipulate the top of your deck to find lands to play with the Courser.

The other thing is that this deck is very good at drawing creature cards and not very good at finding the Nykthos that it so desires. Often if you get a critical mass of Elves and their ilk, you can "make your own" Nykthos, but the ability to actually take lands off the top of your deck to increase your Domri and your Garruk’s power as well as finding Nykthos when it’s there is just amazing. It also contributes two green to the devotion to green that you so crave with this deck, which is nothing to scoff at.

I’ve played the R/W devotion deck that features Hammer and Purphoros as well as many RR two0drops, and the difference between always having a RR two-drop and only having Burning-Tree Emissary to possibly have that explosive start is really lacking from this deck. The Elves can again do their best impression by counting for devotion and generating one mana, but the explosiveness is what’s lacking.

I’m very excited to see how this deck performs with the Courser, but this isn’t the only application. Rather than pairing the Courser with Domri, we can pair the courser with Kiora and make our own Oracle.

Kiora has three good abilities and can win the game by itself if your opponent lets it, but at the same time she was probably only designed to be a Standard chase rare and nothing more. If you plus her, she will still die to Lightning Bolt, so she may not make much of a splash in Modern (although Scapeshift strategies may very well not care about a Lightning Bolt). There are two ways to go with Kiora, but I think in either case Courser of Kruphix is a good pairing.

The first would be a similar deck to the above with blue instead of green. This is a deck that made Top 8 of a PTQ this season:

It’s pretty rough, but I think it’s a good starting point. One of the important themes that the G/R Devotion deck has going for it is that with Domri and Garruk you really do have a lot of ways to generate card advantage, which means you won’t really get "flooded." It’s quite likely that you’ll be flooded with mana creatures, but you’ll be able to use most of your mana each turn. And when you do eventually draw a giant monster, the game will swing in your favor even if it were to die.

Ironically the blue version doesn’t quite have as much card drawing—missing Domri is a big hole—but we can add Kiora and Courser to generate some of our own card advantage. We can also cut the Nyleas and fix up some other numbers. You may already know that I have quite a fondness for Prime Speaker Zegana, and I think the Merfolk is an excellent fit in this deck, especially if you get a Prophet into play—playing Prime Speaker on their turn is quite appealing to me.

I would start with something that looks like this. The idea is the same, but I don’t know which strategy is really better and would like to try out both. Prophet of Kruphix is exciting to me (that’s a lot of mana!) In fact, it might really be too much mana, but I’d need to play a bunch to find out exactly how flooded we get. Also, Sylvan Primordial is sweet, but Arbor Colossus might be just what the doctor ordered if Desecration Demon is too much of an issue. Also, I’m eschewing Cyclonic Rift here, but it’s quite possible that it’s the first card that should be in the sideboard, much like Mizzium Mortars in the red version above.

The other direction to take these cards is in a Bant Control shell much like the one Reid Duke posted in his article last week. The interesting parts of Kiora in conjunction with control elements are the "Gaseous Form" effect making a creature essentially useless for combat purposes next turn and the ramping effect. It also provides a nice win condition at the end if you need one, but again it’s a bit vulnerable so most likely you’ll just get a lot of value out of your Kiora before it dies rather than riding it out to an emblem.

When you Gaseous Form their creature, they’ll be forced to play a second creature to attack Kiora. If you have a Courser to block with, they’ll need a third. This is quite a juicy situation for a Supreme Verdict! How lucky. Sphinx’s Revelation obviously also benefits from ramping and hitting your land drops and gaining life from Courser, surviving longer and playing a bigger Revelation. I don’t have a list in mind, and building a control deck is something I would not recommend until the field is established and you know on which axes you need to fight your battles (it would be foolish to try to kill creatures if no one is playing creatures for example).

Much like Kiora, I know Spirit of the Labyrinth has been the talk of the town, but it’s one of the more exciting cards to me in this set so I’d like to talk about it as well. At 3/1 for 1W, the card is no slouch, but the text is what’s really interesting. Most of the dream scenarios involve Aether Vialing it in in response to something your opponent does, but in conjunction with Mother of Runes in Legacy, just having it in play will mess up a number of your opponent’s cards to the point that they simply won’t cast them. They might cast a Ponder, but they won’t draw off it; they probably won’t cast a Brainstorm or activate their Jace, the Mind Sculptor. Griselbrand is a bit worse when it can’t draw cards, and Enter the Infinite does nothing. The list goes on and on.

I haven’t played Maverick in Legacy in years, but I think both Maverick and Death and Taxes will get the shot in the arm they need to really make a splash in the American Legacy scene. If nothing else, the card Spirit of the Labyrinth does its job without any fuss. I think the reason people don’t succeed more with Death and Taxes right now is because of the interactivity of the deck. It is a very complicated deck to play. You force your opponent to interact with you at every turn, but if you can come out ahead in all of those interactions, you will win. If you aren’t a dedicated Death and Taxes player, there are a lot of opportunities to miss things.

Spirit sits there and does its job, and there’s not much they can do. It’s an easy card to play with, and it’s very hard to play against. In conjunction with Mother of Runes, it will probably shut down an entire RUG Delver deck and give fits to many of the other cantrip-based decks in the format. It may in fact cause things to change in the format, much like True-Name Nemesis did, and maybe we’ll be seeing a lot more Gut Shots as a way to deal with the impending Spirit problem. At least if you have a Gut Shot, you’ll get X-for-oned, but you’ll be able to play your game as you intended.

While I don’t want to speculate on potential decklists, it’s important to keep in mind that if you build your deck to solve one problem and leave yourself open to another you haven’t really improved your deck. It would be easy to say that we can cut the Serra Avengers that have cropped up to beat True-Name Nemesis, but in reality if your deck loses to True-Name Nemesis, you need to find another solution (Holy Light could be a thing) before you can really take it to battle. Sword of Fire and Ice is a popular solution currently, but I don’t know if it’s enough and would like to test before I make any assertions regarding the construction of a new Death and Taxes list.

At the end of the day, I’m excited to perhaps lower the curve of the Death and Taxes deck since Mirran Crusader has never been my cup of tea in Legacy, but Spirit is not particularly strong against Jund. Death and Taxes already suffers so much against Jund that I’m not sure if that’s a route we can take to fit the Spirits into the deck. It’s also tempting to cut the Flickerwisps, which are great cards but still a little cutesy and underpowered for Legacy, but again you can’t just leave a gaping hole against True-Name Nemesis. I think it’s acceptable to be weak against Jund and play the deck if you think Jund will be underrepresented, but it doesn’t make sense to play the deck with weaknesses against Jund and True-Name Nemesis. That build just won’t fly.

Similarly, Maverick has a lot of moving parts. Do you play Stoneforge Mystic? What "bullet" lands do you want to play for your Knight of the Reliquary? Is Scavenging Ooze worth playing? More than one? Gaea’s Cradle then? Do you run two Jittes or just one? Other Equipment? Two Scryb Rangers? More? Even worse, you have to answer each of these questions every time you sleeve up the deck!

The truth is Maverick might not be a good deck if people aren’t jamming RUG Delver, but if they are, then you can assume you’ll get full value out of your Scryb Rangers and the deck will function and perform as intended. Spirit is at home here and very disruptive against RUG Delver, but that’s already one of your good matchups. The reason I think it’s great here is because it’s disruptive against combo decks, which you may have trouble with.

The applications for Spirit don’t end in Legacy, but they are a little harder to find. In Modern there is Wall of Omens, Serum Visions, Think Twice, Thirst for Knowledge, Sphinx’s Revelation, but other than Kibler’s G/W Hate Bear deck there isn’t really a home for the card yet. Maybe that will change, but the problem with playing Spirit in Modern is that (much to Thea Steele’s delight) Electrolyze is an actual card in Modern so you can’t jam all the efficient x/1s into a deck without opening yourself up to having a terrible U/W/R Control matchup. I don’t want to speculate on the banned list, but I’m hoping for a little Modern shakeup (ban Sowing Salt? ban Birthing Pod?). Then we can hit the ground running looking for a home for Spirit.

Ironically, while Spirit is good against cards named Jace, it isn’t particularly good against the newest incarnation, which makes its Standard applications quite limited (just Revelation? maybe Prime Speaker if that becomes a thing?). Domri and Garruk don’t draw cards even though they do, and I’m at a bit of a loss thinking about what else there even is, so while it might be a nice sideboard card (if narrow) it may not make a large splash in Standard right off the bat.

Overall, I’m thrilled that Spirit exists, and I’m pumped to try those Courser and Kiora decks in Standard. So yeah, you could say I’m excited about the new cards. What about you? What’s your favorite Born of the Gods card?