Hot Take BOGO: Chainwhirler And Mox Opal

Krark-Clan Ironworks may need to go, but Emma is a huge fan of even the most broken cards, including Mox Opal! She’d also like to issue a warning to anyone thinking they can play Standard without worrying about The Chainwhirler!

There’s so much to talk about:Bant Nexus, Legacy, U/B Death’s Shadow,

a pack of “I told you so”s

, and the joy of having the theme for a Pro Tour being Magic itself, rather
than shoehorning the theme of a plane into the backdrops and transitions of
every available surface.

It isn’t possible to talk about everything to be absorbed from the weekend,
and it’s doing the event a disservice to cover one topic. Rather than try
to limit myself to a single format or aspect of the Pro Tour, I’m diving
into a couple of observations from over the weekend:

You should still be playing Goblin Chainwhirler

Alternative title for this section: U/W Control and Bant Nexus aren’t going
to take over the format.

After watching the finals of Pro Tour 25th Anniversary, it’s hard to
imagine a world in which U/W Control ever drops a game to red-based aggro
decks. Greg Orange had a couple of fortunate draws that could have broken
in different directions, but he had to flood quite a bit in order to end up
so close to having things spiral out of his favor.

To anybody that’s been following the evolution of this Standard format, the
way the games played out was hardly shocking. Look at Juza’s list:

Look closely.

That’s what the sideboard has to attack control. Chandra, Torch of Defiance
is a sticky threat that won’t be answered by creature removal, but she
isn’t exactly easy to get on the battlefield or protect from Teferi, Hero
of Dominaria.

Looking at his list, it’s fairly easy to see that Juza was more interested
in attacking the other creature decks of the format- specifically the red
and R/B pseudo-mirrors, as well as Mono-Green Aggro. Rather than changing
his angles of attack, his sideboard is mostly there to play with numbers
and streamline the flavors of threats and removal available.

Now that Teferi is back on the map, it’s not going to be hard to adjust
things to the point of Goblin Chainwhirler being on top again. Depending on
one’s taste as a player, there are a couple of ways to accomplish it. The
easiest way to port things from Juza’s deck is to adjust the sideboard and
play with some of the numbers in the decklist. Carlos Romao’s list is a
step in the right direction:

The changes in the maindeck are subtle, but Romao has an extra copy of
Cut//Ribbons and another Chandra, where Juza has an Abrade and Unlicensed
Disintegration. It’s easy to see which cards are better against
near-creatureless control.

Romao’s choice in creatures (specifically the last of Hazoret the Fervent)
leaves a bit to be desired, but the additional hand disruption out of the
sideboard in Doomfall does a fair bit to swing the control matchups after

Even with subtle shifts like this, it’s fairly obvious that the Pro Tour
metagame as a whole leaned closer to the Juza side of things.

Everybody gunning for Chainwhirlers –including the Chainwhirlers
themselves– just makes the metagame more exploitable for the savvier
deckbuilders. What does it look like when Chainwhirlers set their sights
somewhere else? Luckily, we need not look further than the last Pro Tour:

If Juza’s deck is on one extreme of the spectrum, Takimura’s is the
opposite side. A pile of maindeck planeswalkers, hand disruption, Arguel’s
Blood Fast; this isn’t a deck that’s getting out-grinded. The biggest issue
with this version of the deck in today’s world comes from the Mono-Green
side of things:

A pile of removal and Planeswalkers sure is fancy, but it doesn’t matter
how clever you are if you can’t outsmart an untargetable Horse.

Moving across the “red decks that beat blue decks” spectrum, it’s likely
correct to be a bit more typical:

You could do worse than Owen’s list from the same Pro Tour, or try out the
list that he took to the playoffs of US Nationals:


All kidding aside, the draw to Owen’s school of thinking is that rather
than try to out-grind the resource-heavy decks in U/W Control and Bant
Nexus, it’s more interested in applying sizable amounts of pressure, with
specific points of interaction to throw off key turns. On The GAM Podcast, Gerry
Thompson has frequently talked about playing in such a way that puts the
U/W Control decks on sort of “puppet strings.”

I touched on the mentality behind mana taxing in
an article a month or so ago
, but the summary is that it’s generally going to be best to try and cast
high-value spells that U/W would want to counter on their Glimmer of Genius
turn, and cast spells pre-combat when they have a Settle the Wreckage in
order to force them to commit to one spell or the other.

The information that cards like Duress provide comes in handy in these
scenarios and creates a form of interaction that doesn’t require anything
other than shifting one’s play with the cards that are already available at
their disposal.The reason that Juza wasn’t quite as able to implement this
technique in his match are related to the cards that he was playing.

The additional copies of threats like Chandra and Hazoret, which don’t
require exposing themselves to Seal Away and Settle the Wreckage, play to
this strength. Rekindling Phoenix isn’t a threat that has to be Disallowed
pre-combat in the same way that Hazoret does. This makes it harder to force
U/W players into a spot where they’re ever truly threatened. Rekindling
Phoenix is close to a Borderland Minotaur against the deck that has
interaction exclusively in the form of Teferi and Fogs.

On the far side of the “Beat Teferi” spectrum, there’s a personal favorite
of mine from the book of interaction: just kill ’em.

“It doesn’t matter how good the cards in their deck are if they’re at zero

As good as these decks are at answering attackers, they still need to time
get to that point. The way to circumvent a bunch of the interaction is to
simply get damage in before the interaction comes online. Settle the
Wreckage may have an impact on a posse of three attackers, but that’s far
less brutal if they’ve already dealt three or four points each. On top of
that, how good is tapping out for a Teferi when the opponent has three or
four attackers on the table?

What are the odds that it’s possible to just attack past Teferi?

Fogs are naturally going to be good against the attacking half of this
deck, but the Mono-Red variants, be it this or Flame of Keld, both have
more burn than their multicolored counterparts, and are better at fighting
through the sweepers and Fog as a result. The aggression that red decks
present puts the blue decks in a spot where they’re forced to take out a
bunch of their countermagic during sideboarding to interact with fast
creatures, which softens them to burn. It puts a squeeze on their
interaction that the burn-heavy decks are more than prepared to capitalize

Going into the weekend, it’s easy to assume that it’s a safe place to be a
Glimmer of Genius, but if this Standard format has shown us anything, the
control decks are more akin to Affinity in Modern or Dredge in Legacy:
They’re only good when they aren’t.

Magic Needs More Mox Opals

For anyone that missed
my article last week
, I wrote a piece calling for the ban of Krark-Clan Ironworks.

In said article, I touched on reasons to ban Ironworks’ namesake, rather
than coming after the frequently attacked Ancient Stirrings or Mox Opal. It
ended up kicking up enough dust that Patrick Sullivan weighed in on the

From a game design standpoint, Sullivan’s perspective is a reasonable one
to hold. The goal of anyone working to create games is to make their games
balanced. That doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s Wizards of the Coast’s
prime directive.

In the last few years of Magic coverage, there’s been a marked effort of
the company to try and break into the online world of eSports and the
associated market of consumers. If we’re being honest, those attempts
haven’t been particularly successful. At face value, Magic has been growing
year after year, and that’s great, but when compared to the size of other
games in the market, well,

Hearthstone sure isn’t inviting Magic personalities to its high-profile
tournaments in the name of drawing new players in


One of the biggest reasons for this is that it’s fairly difficult to tune
in to a game of Magic and instantly recognize what is happening, who’s
ahead, and so forth. What people can understand, is energy. Even
if someone doesn’t know the rules of the game, it doesn’t take a rocket
scientist to figure out what exactly Riley Knight means when he’s excitedly
saying “That’s exactly what he needed!” It gets people invested in
the games.

WotC has moved away from cards that prevent players from playing the game
and for good reason. Cards in the vein of Hibernation, Boil, and Dread of
Night don’t create good gaming experiences. Staring at an opponent who
doesn’t do anything is only fun for so long. The same is true for viewers.

Doing things that encourage gameplay, while also creating drama, is what
breathes life into a game. Swingy effects are what make great
conversations, and make people excited about the game, rather than
just playing the game. Watch this clip:

It’s not a mistake that this is the most viewed clip of old Pro Tour
coverage on Magic’s Youtube. It’s exciting. Anybody watching the video can
hear from Randy Buehler’s voice that this is monumental. There’s drama in
what’s happening in this game, and it’s not something you forget.

In spite of the video being called “Deck Tap,” it’s fairly easy to see that
that Tzu Ching Kuo tapping the top of a library isn’t the dramatic portion
of the video. It also isn’t an accident that the video has 100,000 views.

What does that have to do with needing more Mox Opals? It’s a question of
power level and how swingy cards are.

It’s not an accident that the most excited moments of the weekend came from
cards in the higher power formats in the feature match area. People aren’t
talking about Standard matches in quite the same way that they’re talking
about Death and Taxes beating three copies of Dread of Night. People don’t
come back to card stores a decade after they quit playing and talk about
their favorite Cryoclasm deck. They talk about their favorite Armageddon

The reason that Modern is ubiquitously the most popular format is that
people feel like they’re doing things that are impactful and have identity.
This comes from the heightened power level of the synergy-based threats and
the drastically lowered power of the answers available.

Mox Opal doesn’t necessarily create the topdeck situations linked to
previously, but it does create swingy gamestates. It’s the
catalyst for these topdecks. The same can be said for Ancient Stirrings and
Simian Spirit Guide.

Being on the other side of them doesn’t feel great, but that’s largely
related to the fact that the Mox Opal is enabling something more powerful
than its opponent. Rather than curating an extensive banned list to try and
keep power levels check from season to season, it would be better to
introduce more themed-cards to Modern. Imagine a more busted devotion-based
card than Nykthos, Shrine to Nyx or Master of Waves; a real enchantress
deck; or even just upgrading old favorites.

There are ways to introduce the cards into older formats without ruining
Standard in the process. The Tempered Steel deck was generally a metagame
call during its tenure in Standard, and Mox Opal hardly saw play otherwise,
for example.

As Magic ages and new cards are printed, more powerful tools are inevitably
going to be introduced to the game. The longer that things exist in Modern,
the more likely it is that they’ll have reasonable competitors in the
context of their format. It’s up to us whether we embrace the gradual
uptick in power level or call for the cream of the crop to be barred from
competitive play.

To take a line
from my favorite

documentary on superhuman capabilities

: “When everyone’s super, nobody is.”