Hits & Misses

In this week’s article, Brad reevaluates a few cards in Born of the Gods for Standard just in time for the SCG Open Series in Nashville, Tennessee this weekend. Check it out!

Getting to make Versus videos for StarCityGames.com has its perks. Most would think that nothing could be better than getting to spend so much time with Todd Anderson, but they would be wrong. Don’t get me wrong—Todd is a great guy and all, but there are numerous better things about it.

First of all, I get to bug Evan Erwin with the most amplified hyperbolic hysteria every time I come up with a new deck idea. Who knows if he actually gets excited about my ideas, but he sure does act like it! Once the videos go live, I get to read all the comments about how much they mean to people, which is a real treat, but that isn’t even the icing on the cake. The most beneficial thing about working on Versus videos is when releases roll around and I get to make countless videos trying out all my new ideas. This is not only crucial for my job but also benefits me as a player when preparing for events like the Open Series in Nashville this weekend.

Now, I was planning on sandbagging most of my ideas going into the weekend, but this little voice in my head told me it would be nicer if I just shared all of my knowledge on the format with you guys today. Sure, my results might suffer, but at least I will be honoring the most important lesson my grandmother has bestowed upon me over the years.

"If you are going to do a job, do it right!"

I sure proved her wrong over the years! But I digress . . .

My initial evaluation of the cards in Born of the Gods was pretty off. I was extremely unimpressed with the set at first glance, but things changed almost immediately once I got my hands on the cards. Let’s start by going over all the cards I thought would be good but have yet to perform the way I thought they would.

The first time I saw this card my salivary glands became uncontrollable. I just couldn’t believe Wizards would print the perfect card for Sphinx’s Revelation. Sadly, this isn’t exactly how the games played out. I felt invincible when I had both of those cards in my hand with seven untapped mana, but the issue isn’t in this situation. It’s in the way you have to build U/W Control with it in mind.

Elspeth, Sun’s Champion has been one of the most powerful cards for U/W Control recently, with most players having three copies in the maindeck. It’s just impossible to play Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Fated Retribution in the same deck since they don’t play well with each other.

I tried to build a shell around Fated Retribution that resembled what William Jensen played in Dallas late last year, but the deck just didn’t perform. It seems impossible to be that reactive in this format. Control decks need to stem the tides long enough to take the upper hand. Elixir of Immortality style U/W decks just don’t seem like where you want to be.

I could be wrong, but now I realize I would much rather build my deck around Elspeth, Sun’s Champion than anything else.

This card is good at what it does, but the problem is everyone knows what it does and will be prepared to play against it. Every red-based and every blue-based devotion deck has multiple creatures that get around Drown in Sorrow, making it more of a risk to board it in for those matchups. The only matchup I’ve found this card good against is white-based aggro decks, but many of them have become green-based to dodge this impressive removal spell.

I think this card will be in many sideboards this weekend but almost everyone who has them will be disappointed in their performance.

The second green mana symbol was the most deceiving thing about this card. I initially thought Wizards "pushed" this creature due to the second symbol but quickly realized it isn’t very good. Yes, it’s decent against hyperaggressive decks, but that isn’t what the format is going to be like due to the fear of Drown in Sorrow and Bile Blight.

Courser doesn’t accelerate you, which is the most important thing to be doing in green decks. The life you gain will not matter since every deck is designed around going big since going home is the only other option. This means it will not interact favorably against Xenagos, God of Revels; Master of Waves; Stormbreath Dragon; Sphinx’s Revelation; Elspeth Sun’s Champion; or any other finisher the field plays.

The only home I can think of for Courser is in a Jund Midrange deck due to the fact that that style deck wants to trade repeatedly and set up powerful Rakdos’s Returns. The problem is I don’t think that deck exists. I could see Jund Midrange being Courser of Kruphix’s home if someone does figure out how to design it though.

Now that that’s out of the way, I can get down and dirty about all the hidden gems in Born of the Gods, starting with what I consider to be the biggest sleeper in the set.

This was one of the most overlooked cards when I did my homework for the set reviews with Evan. It just didn’t seem possible to build a deck around burn spells when permanents are so powerful. Devotion has already proven to be one of the most powerful things you can do in the format, making it difficult to believe in Skullcrack as a maindeck card. That was before I finally sleeved the Firedancer up and tested it.

This card is insane!

My original logic could not have been more flawed! If the format is designed around permanents and trying to have more powerful draws than an opponent, then this card will live more often. Every deck wants their planeswalkers and/or Nykthos, Shrine of Nyx to be as powerful as they can be, leaving most removal spells stranded in the sideboard. As a result, permanent-heavy decks will have a tough time dealing with the Firedancer, and removal-heavy decks will have a tough time racing the density of burn the deck has. This works for every matchup except Sphinx’s Revelation decks. I’m still trying to figure that one out.

This is the next underrated card on my list. I don’t know how many I want to play, but I’ve already figured out that Oracle does way more damage than Chandra, Pyromaster in R/W Burn. This guy is specifically for the U/W Control matchups when they’ve tapped out for Jace, Architect of Thought or Detention Sphere targeting one of our smaller threats.

Tribute is probably the most mocked mechanic to come out of Wizards in a long time. This is mostly due to the fact that giving the opponent options is always terrible. You never get what you want out of the card. This card somewhat breaks that golden rule.

The way this card plays out is very interesting against U/W Control. They will take five damage if they pay tribute, but things get interesting if they choose to see what the triggered ability has in store for them. One of the most powerful combos with this card is Toil // Trouble. Since the card we get to play is free, we have the opportunity to fuse it. We can either deal them damage equal to their hand plus four by targeting them with both halves or simply draw two cards along with dealing them some damage.

Maybe this combo is too cute or even gets worse now that it won’t be a surprise, but there’s some merit to exploring it.

Initially dismissed as a worse Essence Scatter, I forgot that Underworld Connections and Chained to the Rocks are in fact Auras. This card was designed to be a cheap answer for creatures and also bestow spells in Limited. There might be something to its ability to counter creatures cheaply as well as highly impactful enchantments.

The only thing I have to say about this card is that I was completely wrong when I first saw it when it was spoiled. I laughed at how bad this planeswalker looked until I got my hands on it. If you’ve watched or read anything I have put on this site as of late, you already know how powerful I think this card is. I’m just waiting for the first person to play it alongside Fog. A boy can dream!

I thought this card was going to be awesome when I saw it. The fact of the matter is that it is much better than that (it’s probably the most powerful card in the set behind Brimaz, King of Oreskos). The Theros Gods proved that their passive ability was what made them tournament playable. Thassa, God of the Sea became a tournament staple mostly because of how easy it was to close out games when it was in play. This is exactly what Xenagos, God of Revels does, allowing you to beef up any creature on your board to deal huge chunks of damage.

The best home I have found for it is in R/G Devotion.

I built this deck during the Springleaf Drum phase I went through earlier this week. The card is not as powerful in this deck compared to Affinity, but it does some interesting things. The first is that you can replace Gruul Guildgates with Mountains if you play it. The second is that you can play a turn 2 Domri Rade if you play turn 1 Springleaf Drum with Burning-Tree Emissary in your hand. That is one of the most powerful starts in this deck and almost always leads to victory.

Springleaf Drum also helps cast more creatures in the early game or even get your five-drops into play on turn 2 when you don’t have a busted Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx draw. The biggest flaw this deck had was when it couldn’t generate enough mana using Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx, and that is exactly what Springleaf Drum tries to solve.

Xenagos, God of Revels works very well in this deck, allowing you to give more and more creatures haste. Sure, this deck already runs Hammer of Purphoros, but that only means Xenagos, God of Revels will also have haste when it comes into play. It’s very easy to get enough devotion for Xenagos since we have so many permanents that are difficult to get off the board. This God is almost always turned on, but it helps kills opponents out of nowhere even when it isn’t.

The most interesting thing about Xenagos is how well it interacts with the creatures in the deck. For starters, it can help burn an opponent out with Domri Rade and Boros Reckoner by being the largest powered creature in your deck. This only gets amplified by how well it pumps cards like Frostburn Weird. Let’s say I have already gone into combat and activated my Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx for red mana with the Xenagos, God of Revels trigger on the stack. Then I pump Frostburn Weird three times before the trigger resolves, making it an 8/4. Three more pumps allow it to fight Boros Reckoner for a total of eleven damage, closing out the game. This is of course a Magical Christmasland scenario, but it will come up more than you expect with a deck that clogs the board so well.

I have high hopes for this deck and strongly suggest trying it out this weekend if you don’t already have something in mind to play.

I still don’t think this card is that impressive, but it does some interesting things for one of my old favorites: Naya Control. Naya Control always had a tough time killing Elspeth, Sun’s Champion and Jace, Architect of Thought. Now that this card exists, it gives the archetype a Vindicate type effect, allowing some of the deck’s removal to not be completely dead in game 1 (not to mention the deck gets a pretty sweet creature upgrade as well):

Here’s a golden rule about Magic: if a decklist has Prophetic Prism in it, it’s probably bad. Obviously the card isn’t great, but I think it might fit in this deck. Not only does it cantrip, but it allows this deck some more consistency with so many spells that are difficult to cast. Sometimes there won’t be enough time to play it and keep up on the board, but I do think it will help smooth out draws. The reason for this sacrifice is because this take on Naya Control is playing some of the most powerful spells in the format as well as a high density of them. As such, some smoothing is in order.

Brimaz, King of Oreskos is an extremely powerful creature, but it doesn’t mean that it can only perform well in aggressive decks. It actually will shine most in midrange strategies that can remove a couple creatures from the board. This allows it to keep attacking and generate more creatures. It’s also just as good at blocking as it is attacking, which makes it a great defensive spell when we’re trying to get enough lands in play to play other spells.

I do not suggest taking this 75 into battle this weekend, but I would enjoy it if some of you work on the deck and get back to me. I think there is something here, but testing will have to take place before this deck is polished enough for serious competition.

I hope you guys enjoy the first weekend with Born of the Gods. I’ll be doing battle this weekend at the SCG Open Series in Nashville, Tennessee. I wouldn’t normally be traveling to every single Open Series, but I am hot on Brian Braun Duin’s tail on the SCG Players’ Championship Leaderboard and really want to take home the first season!

Plus who likes being in third?