Magic 2014 Set Review: Part 2

If you’re still looking for a M14 Standard deck to play at SCG Open Series: Richmond or SCG Classic Series: Lansing, don’t miss the second part of Patrick Chapin’s review!

Welcome to Part 2 of our trip through M14. Wednesday was Part 1, which can be found here. We discussed U/W/R Flash, Esper, Hexproof, Junk Reanimator, Zombies, Aristocrats, and Humans. It was pretty sweet. I would have started Monday, but I was busy marrying the woman of my dreams last weekend.

Today we pick up where we left off with Humans (this time Naya). First, though, by popular demand:

Grixis Control

This update to the Grixis deck I played in Miami moves away from the Gilded Lotus / Blast of Genius action because I am no fun and just want to win (albeit with Grixis, apparently, instead of just playing Jund). The main theories behind the deck can be found here. There are two big new additions plus a couple of other possibilities worth considering.

Grixis has long struggled with no access to Sphinx’s Revelation. It is such a better card drawer than any of the others that control has been mostly pigeonholed into U/W/x for the past year.

It is still a better card drawer than any of the others.

However, at least Opportunity is better than some of the other options available to non-U/W/x decks. A lot of people ask, "Why is Opportunity better than Thoughtflare?" Well, it certainly isn’t always, but it’s better here because all we really care about is quantity of cards. I mean, come on, we’re casting Divination! When all you want is a raw quantity of cards, Thoughtflare is actually just plus one card for five mana, the same rate as Think Twice or Desperate Ravings. For just one more mana, Opportunity gives you plus three cards. This makes each extra card from Opportunity cost just two mana, which is the best deal we can find.

It’s very possible we should be playing with more than two Opportunitys, as the card is real good and exactly what we are looking for. I just figured it’d be better to start conservative and then work our way up. I honestly don’t think there’s anything wrong with playing four Opportunitys in addition to other card draw if tuning goes that direction. You want to be sure you can defend yourself early game and draw enough lands though. I really like what Opportunity does to the Snapcaster Mages, which helps make up for there being just the two.

The other important addition is a Grixis favorite of mine that appeared in my Pro Tour Paris Grixis Tezzeret, Worlds 2010 Grixis Control, and Grand Prix Orlando 2011 Grixis Control decks. Ratchet Bomb really is a game changer for Grixis as it adds several big dimensions to the Grixis game plan. For starters, it is enchantment and artifact removal. Obviously, Grixis could destroy artifacts if it really wanted, but it doesn’t really have any good multipurpose cards that let it destroy them without dedicating slots. Additionally, Grixis had no real way to hit enchantments, which is particularly dangerous with the printing of Burning Earth.

In addition to its versatility as a problem solver, it is also the best sweeper in the format for Grixis by far. Mizzium Mortars and Bonfire of the Damned are great cards and Barter in Blood is a solid option, but none of these do what Grixis really wants. Ratchet Bomb isn’t a homerun, either, but does do a number of things.

First, it is the best token sweeper. We already have things like Izzet Staticaster for 1/1s, but the ability to sweep Elementals, Beasts, Wurms, and Demons is pretty sweet. Second, it forces opponents to slow down. Not only can it threaten to kill two-drops in play, but opponents won’t want to commit another two-drop to the board that will just be Bombed away. Third, it activates at instant speed without mana, which is super effective against haste and pump effects.

There are several other cards that warrant consideration in Grixis. To begin with, Chandra, Pyromaster takes you down a little different path, but imagine if you start with a core of:

Ok, not exactly Grixis. Fair enough. Still, it’s kind of cool how much redundancy we have when it comes to turn 3 Scroll Thief / Stealer of Secrets, turn 4 Ral Zarek / Chandra. Izzet Staticaster works with both walkers to help kill larger dudes, and Turn // Burn can kill anything when combined with absolutely anything in the deck.

Returning to Grixis from above, another card to consider is Quicken. It isn’t really appropriate for that build, but if you were a little heavier on Barter in Blood, Mizzium Mortars, and Rakdos’s Return, Quicken starts to do some pretty sweet things. It is particularly valuable if you want to get your spell count up for Augur of Bolas and Snapcaster Mage.

Two other cards that need to be considered (here just like everywhere else it seems) are Mutavault and Encroaching Wastes. Mutavault is just a top-tier card, and I would certainly not mind a few in Grixis, though they are certainly not at their best here. Where Mutavault really shines is in spots where a couple points here and a couple points there really add up because you have to scrounge together twenty. Grixis has a tendency to actually completely take over the game, making a few inches earned earlier irrelevant. Still, Mutavault is not the worst blocker, particularly as an answer to opposing Mutavaults or Geist of Saint Traft.

Unfortunately for Grixis, Mutavault is actually completely amazing against us. Much of our removal is sorcery speed, it dodges Ratchet Bomb, and it can hide in the land row, being untargetable for a long time and threatening to hit us whenever we overextend. Overall, the printing of Mutavault is a big net negative for Grixis.

The other new nonbasic option is Encroaching Wastes, which is nowhere near as strong as Mutavault but still a totally solid card. If we had more fear of Nephalia Drownyard or Cavern of Souls, Encroaching Wastes could easily replace the Mutavault (and we might find room for one more).

Ok, now that we’ve all got that out of our system, time for some serious business.


There is a whole spectrum from Naya Humans to Naya Good Stuff. Really, it’s just a question of whether you’re more of a Burning-Tree Emissary type or Voice of Resurgence type. I know which I am…

Naya Midrange really doesn’t gain all that much from M14 (thank goodness, as it is popular enough already). The only slam-dunk is Scavenging Ooze, which is just an outrageous card. It gives you something to do on turn 2 in games where you didn’t have a mana creature or it didn’t live. That it grows gives you another huge threat that can just take over a game later. That it exiles creatures from graveyards gives you a meaningful way to interact with undying, scavenge, Gravecrawler, Chandra’s Phoenix, Unburial Rites, and Varolz. That it gains you a bit of life can be the difference between winning the race and losing, and those extra life points are going to be invaluable during the inevitable red aggro comeback that quickly approaches.

Another possibility for Naya Midrange is to go in a more Garruk, Caller of Beasts direction. The following list is detailed here.

I’m not sold on the Gyre Sages, but they could be good. Now that we know about Scavenging Ooze, that is one possible place to consider if cuts are needed. The Fiend Hunter versus Banisher Priest debate is an interesting one. If you are going to be beating down, the Banisher Priest seems a logical choice. However, in this world of Pillar of Flames, it makes sense that we might prefer the Fiend Hunter, just wanting the removal element to be more reliable.

Notice how removing Boros Reckoner lets us replace Arbor Elf with Elvish Mystic if we are so inclined. Once we remove Boros Reckoner, we should give some serious thought to Mutavault. Additionally, there is another three-drop we ought to consider even if it is just for the sideboard.

Fiendslayer Paladin is a pretty darn effective blocker and could be just the anti-red sideboard card we are looking for. It is totally reasonable against black as well, but black is more likely to have large creatures that outclass it. The three spot is notoriously tough to break into these days, but Fiendslayer Paladin at least has a niche.

Imposing Sovereign is much more for Naya Aggro builds than midrange decks, but it’s still a powerful card that may be worth it just for the tempo aggression it gives you.

Finally, Brave the Elements is one of the finest tricks in the game’s sordid history. Whether it’s a counterspell, a combat trick, a Falter, or even a makeshift Fog, the card is incredible powerful and incredibly versatile. I don’t know that tricks are what we’re looking for in this deck, particularly if we are relying on Domri Rade and Garruk, but it is worth considering for the faster builds.

Chandra, Pyromaster is a theoretical possibility, but we actually have a lot of planeswalkers that draw cards already, we don’t place a huge value on the ability to remove blockers in this build, and we have a fair number of expensive cards we might not be able to cast the turn after we play Chandra. On top of everything else, our four slot is overflowing with amazing options. Advent of the Wurm and extra Huntmasters would likely come first, but it is still worth asking the question.

Of course, Naya Midrange is hardly the only Naya deck seeing play. However, Burning-Tree Emissary Naya decks won’t change all that much, and Naya Humans is really just a question of where you fall on the Imposing Sovereign / Burning-Tree Emissary spectrum.

G/R Aggro

One of the possibilities for Naya is to remove white, a strategy already employed by a fair number of players. Going straight G/R streamlines your mana and generally pushes you in a pretty straightforward aggressive direction, slightly bigger than Naya Humans but smaller than Naya Midrange.

Elvish Mystic is a great new option but nowhere near fully utilized in this list. One of the great prices you pay for going Gruul is the loss of so many of the best three-drops. You still have Domri Rade, which might be the best one, and Flinthoof Boar is a pretty fine three, but you could really use one more good one (and then play more Arbor Elf).

Kalonian Tusker is just about as good as Watchwolf, being slightly harder to cast but not foiled by protection from white creatures. It’s not a superstar, but it is pretty good. If he cost RG, people would be snatching him up since the gold border tells you it’s good. Since it’s just one color, though, some people may be slow to give it the respect it deserves. At the end of the day, it is just a Watchwolf, however.

Chandra, Pyromaster is actually kind of sweet in here. The ability to remove blockers is great (particularly Thragtusk), and it can provide some added reach as well as resiliency to sweepers. The extra cards it draws aren’t that great, but they still help and you are rarely going to be stuck with an unplayable. What I don’t recommend is using her ultimate.

The first list I had sketched out was another deck that would absolutely love a bunch of Mutavaults but couldn’t support them due to cards like Kalonian Tusker and Strangleroot Geist. Then I realized I might actually like Mutavault so much that it could be worth playing Gruul Guildgates. Most likely it’s better to play more one-drops and suck it up when it comes to Mutavaults, but this version will teach us more the first few games we play with it.

Garruk, Caller of Beasts is a fantastic card, but it’s not exactly beatdown central. We really just want to bash in a deck like this, so it’s probably not a serious maindeck consideration.

Scavenging Ooze might belong in the maindeck here, but if nothing else we’re going to want a bunch in our sideboard. It’s just a real effective hate card against graveyard decks that is strong on its own.

Wild Ricochet is definitely squarely in the "admit it, you like to party" space, but if enough people play juicy targets, we’ll be glad we remembered to ask ourselves about it.

Shock is generally a worse Pillar of Flame, but if the format gets super-fast and you really value killing one-drops, you could end up wanting more than four.

Enlarge is kind of a cool option out of the board, and while its rate isn’t the greatest of all time, it is playable (and probably better than the green miracles).

Kalonian Hydra doesn’t really have a ton of combos in here, but we could build more combos if we wanted. With just a little more acceleration, the Hydra can put in some serious work. That it kills in two hits (often through blockers) is pretty surreal.

Ogre Battledriver is not the sort of card that usually succeeds and is at the extremely competitive four-spot, but it is super awesome with Kalonian Hydra. Combine it with an Elf and a good three-drop, like Loxodon Smiter, Flinthoof Boar, or many others, and you have a turn 4 kill when you play your Hydra. It’s kind of interesting that you can play a bunch of copies of Ogre Battledriver and a bunch of copies of Exava, Rakdos Blood Witch and have excellent chances of making your Hydra lethal the next turn…

Jund Aggro

This build is all about the goldfish, and I’m not sure that’s a problem. This list mostly attempts to produce a consistent 1-3-4-5 experience (which generally translates into a win if opponents aren’t meaningfully resisting). Of course, it is possible to go even further down this path. Outside of playing eight of the cards we currently have seven of, you could also adopt cards like Lightning Mauler that give you even more ways to make sure your Savageborn and Kalonian Hydras have haste. There have been very few creatures in the history of Magic that need/want haste as badly as Kalonian Hydra (and actually give you the payoff of a lifetime if you make it so).

Speaking of Savageborn Hydra, it really isn’t the worst five-drop, as it does crash for ten points of haste when it follows an Ogre. If you ever get to untap with it, you are talking about a pretty unfightable Eldrazi, plus it is still worth playing as a three-drop or a four-drop when you don’t have another play.

Renegade Krasis might be too cute, but it does pass the turn 4 goldfish test, ensuring our nut draws are lethal. It also gives us additional ways to take over a board against an opponent with a lot of blockers.

Experiment One over Arbor Elf number four might be a mistake, as it decreases the turn 4 kills, but it has just such incredible synergy with the rest of the deck that I think I’d rather risk the slowdown for the increase in power.

This next version is a bit less fun but showcases a few other ideas Jund Aggro players may want to consider.

I wouldn’t be surprised if these sorts of decks want some Domri Rade action, but I am a little hesitant because it doesn’t mesh at all with the turn 4 kill plan. Still, these decks are all dudes, and Domri Rade is a helluva backup plan. Plus, any deck with seven or eight mana dorks and a critical mass of creatures has got to love switching gears and playing a quick Domri game.

Vorel of the Hull Clade may be a fourth color, but it isn’t out of the question. At least she’s a Human in case you are rocking any kind of Cavern of Souls action. It’s a little tight to try to make your lands get there, but I guess you could be on some Farseek type of time. More likely if you are going to make Vorel happen, it is at the expense of red or black.

You lose Exava either way, which is a pretty serious hit. If you keep red, you can keep some Haste in the form of the Ogre and Lightning Mauler, but if you keep black, you can go all in on evolve. Here’s a sketch inspired by a Zvi Mowshowitz Block deck:

I wanted to start with zero removal spells because that is what Zvi would do. In a deck like this that just wants as many multipliers as possible, there is a real cost to every single spell you play that doesn’t support the engine.

Of course, Jund Aggro isn’t even the primary way to play the color combination. The strategy that probably deserves the crown at the end of the last season is Jund Midrange.

Jund Midrange

Ahh, the purest of midrange strategies. Jund has been good for a while and is likely to be pretty good most of the time from now on. Don’t get me wrong, it won’t always be these three colors, but the strategy of some good rate creatures and planeswalkers supported by some removal spells and maybe the smallest amount of disruption is a strategy WotC is loving the existence of. Magic is four times as big as it was five years ago, and an awful lot of those people love playing with and against decks like this.

Here’s my starting point:

Reid Duke is the Jund master these days (rivaled only by Willy Edel), and I think the most logical starting point for Jund is to use the Duke’s latest list. The only change I have made is replacing his Tragic Slips with Pillar of Flames, a change I am sure is wrong since there is no chance the Duke didn’t consider exactly this. I have just found Pillar to be absurd. It kills everything you need it to, it is a godsend against Voice of Resurgence, Gravecrawler, Geralf’s Messenger, and Strangleroot Geist, and I just like to nug people. Tragic Slip can kill bigger dudes, but we aren’t short on ways to do that in Jund.

The only M14 card in Reid’s list is Scavenging Ooze, but it’s a doozy. Scavenging Ooze is this weird sort of Tarmogoyf with so much versatility. It really plays into Jund’s game plan of having powerful, efficient cards that can work on their own but give you ways to use your resources efficiently. Besides, it is absolutely fantastic against Junk Reanimator, which has been a weakness of Jund’s all year.

Garruk, Primal Hunter certainly gets the nod over Garruk, Caller of Beasts because we want to play a lot of spells. Mutavault would be decent, but Kessig Wolf Run more naturally fits the game plan. Current Jund isn’t about nickel and diming people. When you win, it’s generally by a lot. Kessig Wolf Run lets any creature be a real threat, while Mutavault isn’t going to turn around boards as often. Additionally, so many people are going to use Mutavault that the format is going to get a little more hostile for the card.

Lifebane Zombie is definitely a possibility either maindeck or sideboard. It’s less good in Jund than it would be in black aggro decks, but the card’s power level is still quite high. Jund would be much happier if the Zombie could take Sphinx’s Revelation, but it is still a good solid two-for-one and particularly nice against Thragtusk and Restoration Angel.

Mindsparker is a great option against Flash decks, but I am not sure if there will be enough of them to warrant it. That said, its body is so good that you are hardly paying for the ability, which seems to suggest it might be maindeckable somewhere. It’s not actually that great against control, as they have countless ways to remove it (although they will often lose two life). Flash decks, however, are often going to be in really bad shape until they can remove it. Lately, though, most Flash decks have featured a lot of Pillar of Flames and Searing Spears, so I’m not sure it even hurts them that much.

Chandra, Pyromaster is an interesting option, though we don’t really take that good of an advantage of its ability to remove blockers. Drawing the extra cards is definitely nice, but with so many reactive cards, you are going to have wasted draws more often than a lot of other decks.

Burning Earth could be absolutely incredible if Jund decks evolve a little to actually be able to fit more basics in. This probably goes hand-in-hand with Borderland Ranger, but even just Farseek and a basics package is a good start. Remember, Burning Earth isn’t the same as Blood Moon, where you need enough basics to cast all of your spells. Even just having three basics in play means you will take very little damage from your Burning Earth while completely obliterating many greedy opponents.

Burning Earth is actually one of my sleeper picks for most influential cards in the set. Its power level isn’t the most pushed this type of effect has ever been, but it has been a long time since we had this type of effect at all and it will take people a little while to adjust. It’s particularly exciting if you’re the type to play Acidic Slime since the Slime can destroy a much-needed basic.

There is some pressure on R/G players to play that third color, but there are some incentives to just dropping a color instead.

Mono-Red Aggro

Mono-Red Aggro hasn’t been around forever, but it has been around about seventeen years too long to be considered a new deck. As such, even though it hasn’t been super popular lately, it is still an update and happens to be one that gains a lot more than most.

While some archetypes take you down a very specific path, Mono-Red Aggro has tons of options at most spots on the curve (with only its one slot being really boring). Are you all in Burning-Tree Emissary Blitz style? Are you a big Thundermaw Hellkite deck? Are you trying to get a board advantage ala Sligh? Are you supposed to splash a color (and all four have quality reasons to consider them)? Is it time to do something crazy like go Goblins?

While I certainly eagerly await Patrick Sullivan Red Box Review, in the meantime here are my thoughts:

There are so many questions to consider when building a red deck in the new world!

To start with, whether or not you play Mutavault seems to be a pretty defining decision. If you go full-on Mutavault, Boros Reckoner becomes a lot harder to cast. Of course, in some metagames, Chandra’s Phoenix is just better anyway.

I know not everyone is on board with Chandra, Pyromaster, but she is the single most important reason why I think red aggro will make a comeback. Her damage to creatures is valuable so you can save the burn spells for more important things, not to mention combining with them to kill bigger bodies. Her damage to the face adds up and can give you inevitability against slower decks. Her ultimate isn’t that impressive, but you can count on it to do six-to-nine damage, which is a nice option to have thrown in.

Where she really starts to shine is when you consider how efficiently she deals with a Thragtusk. Sure, they can attack back, but every chump blocker goes a long way (and Chandra’s Phoenix is particularly good at this). She is such a great answer to Thragtusk that we will probably see less Traitorous Instinct type cards (which are primarily just gunning for Thragtusk anyway).

People like joke about the zero ability being wasted when you are just drawing Cacklers and Pillars of Flame, but a personal Howling Mine is still good even in Mono-Red Aggro. There is going to be a lot of midrange (just like there has been for a long time), and traditionally midrange decks are fairly effective against Mono-Red Aggro. Chandra actually gives us a legitimate way to overpower them.

Mindsparker is another option worth considering, but I am somewhat lukewarm on it for week one for all the same reasons listed above. Instead, I prefer Burning Earth backed by the usual Reckless Waif plan. The one Skullcrack might be wrong, but I just want them to know they are never safe…

Young Pyromancer is a pretty fantastic card that isn’t at its best here but might still be better than the alternatives. What are you going to play instead? Gore-House Chainwalker? Firefist Striker? Burning-Tree Emissary doesn’t exactly have a lot of synergy, and Lightning Mauler is wasted in a deck so full of haste.

Goblin Diplomats is probably not what you want. I am always a little curious when they print new versions of effects that have never really been good. It is such a standard WotC move to take a type of card that has never been good and make a new version that is so good it actually shows up. Goblin Diplomats’ rate is miles ahead of the other cards that do this sort of thing, so it is at least worth a look. Besides, there are worse things than making sure your opponent can hardly ever block (never if you have Imposing Sovereign).

Awaken the Ancient has some people excited, but I think that is mostly just a product of big numbers and lots of little fire symbols. It is a 7/7 haste creature for (effectively) five, which is pretty sweet, but Thundermaw Hellkite’s flying ability just seems worth paying for, to say nothing of occasionally hitting Spirits or tapping Angels). Additionally, Awaken the Ancient has a terrible weakness to Azorius Charm, a card I don’t expect to diminish in popularity anytime soon.

Hellrider is certainly worth considering for a deck like this, but Young Pyromancer and Chandra’s Phoenix really encourage you to play more burn (and less creatures) than Hellrider would like. Additionally, I really think Chandra is going to do nice things for the four spot.

It’s kind of crazy, but if the format slows down a little, M14 gives us a new type of red aggro deck to experiment with, the Pyromancer’s Gauntlet deck:

It’s possible that this approach is just silly, but Pyromancer’s Gauntlet is pretty sick against anything slow that can’t get rid of it. In particular, Geistflame is good for six damage and Flames of the Firebrand is often Plague Wind.

Obviously, this list isn’t really red aggro, instead being some convoluted red control deck. (Ponza without the Sauce?) What I really miss is some sort of Slagstorm, as creature swarms could be annoying even with Flames of the Firebrand and Geistflame. Also, creatures with death triggers are potentially annoying even with four Pillars. I don’t think Annihilating Fire is totally out of the question, though it sure is a hard way to do it. What I really want is Disintegrate.

While I haven’t used a ton of Shocks in these decks, it should be noted that Shock gains a bit of value from the printing of Mutavault (which Pillar of Flame generally cannot hit). Of course, Turn // Burn, Izzet Charm, and the various other "Shocks" all gain in the same way, and there are just so many ways to deal two that we often prefer Searing Spear for the variety. The place where Shock is really going to shine is if you are playing a deck with 24 or more cheap creatures and just want lots of good cheap tempo plays.

Ok, I’m out for today. Monday is where we really get down to business, looking at every new archetype I can think of (and another Grixis deck). Any requests? What’s the most underrated card in M14? How about most overrated? See you Monday!

Patrick Chapin
"The Innovator"