So, Yahenni thinks they’re an expert, do they? Well, I don’t know about all that. Sure, their card looks extremely powerful and seems primed for Modern and Standard play, but is it really? Does that qualify one as an expert?
Well, maybe if they are claiming that Yahenni is an expert at making cheap spells free. Maybe I could get behind that. And get behind it I shall, with unbounded joy. This card is incredible, and unless the Standard format is about to change significantly I expect we will all be sick of the sight of it by the time Amonkhet rolls around. In the meantime, I am looking forward to figuring out just how much of Yahenni’s alleged Expertise I can leverage to do silly things. After all, that’s where my expertise lies.
Much of the gushing over this card has been centered on casting Liliana, the Last Hope as a follow-up, presumably on an empty battlefield.
That is undeniably powerful and can help clean up something like an Archangel Avacyn that was big enough to stick around while also presenting a threat right away. In fact, the card slots perfectly into the B/G Delirium deck, as so much of the deck costs three or less. Grim Flayer would be my follow-up of choice, but any of the enablers (Vessel of Nascency, Grapple with the Past) could work just as well. Even Ruinous Path or Grasp of Darkness wouldn’t be terrible, though it does feel bad having to spend your free spell to finish clearing the battlefield without seeing an additional benefit. Of course, if the Ruinous Path takes out a planeswalker, that makes a big difference.
If we want to talk boring things like removal, there is no shortage of follow-up free options: Fairgrounds Warden, Harnessed Lightning, Unlicensed Disintegration, Murder, Stasis Snare…the list is long and relatively varied. We even have Prey Upon, Appetite for the Unnatural, and Smash to Smithereens as options. Anguished Unmaking is also a thing we can use for increased flexibility. But we can do better than just killing stuff, can’t we?
Well, for starters, we have three planeswalkers at three mana that we can put onto the battlefield right after we kill everything. I hear that planeswalkers like empty battlefields. We mentioned above that Liliana, the Last Hope can help finish off any four-toughness creatures that the opponent was rude enough to cast, and if your hand is stocked with removal to keep her safe, before long, you will have your very own Zombie army.
Nissa, Voice of Zendikar might be a little less exciting, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t good. Her ability to provide a stream of blockers while building up to a large card-draw-and-life-gain ultimate is good on its own, but the deck I envision is probably also running Ob Nixilis Reignited and possibly Sorin, Grim Nemesis. Such an Abzan Walkers deck would make use of other Expertise-resistant threats (Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet and Sylvan Advocate spring to mind) as additional protection as well as eager homes for +1/+1 counters if we feel the need to make those with Nissa.
That’s not the most fun idea, though. Saheeli Rai has seen almost no play in Standard, and that’s a c-Rai-ing shame. Her converted mana cost is a boon without question, but her relative inability to protect herself coupled with a lackluster +1 ability has seen her Rai-legated to the bench for the most part. She’s more than likely at her best in decks that can either keep the battlefield empty or decks that can precede her with an early defensive creature like Consulate Skygate (only, you know, not terrible).
Fortunately, Yahenni’s an expert at the former. Think some sort of Grixis brew that is control-focused but runs an artifact package of each of the three Gearhulks, maybe Deadlock Traps, Metalwork Colossus, Prophetic Prism, and perhaps something from Aether Revolt that we haven’t seen yet. The rest of the deck would be removal, some countermagic, and our new friend Tezzeret the Schemer. Ideally I’d like to get some sort of Clue generation going to combine with his -2 ability, but that might be ambitious. Whirlermaker did come to mind, but is too slow in all likelihood. Whirler Virtuoso is an engine in and of itself, especially if we can squeeze in an Era of Innovation or two, but that might be a different deck altogether. My kingdom for a reprint of Thopter Spy Network!
Smuggler’s Copter might struggle in a deck looking to keep small creatures off the battlefield, however. Whatever you do, don’t use Painful Truths here. That’s not going to end the way you want it to end.
“What if I want to draw nothing and lose? What then, smart guy?”
Finally, green presents some interesting options. For example, Eldritch Evolution presents a quirky rules interaction in that we can cast it for free due to the second part of Expertise, and we can sacrifice a creature that is about to die.
As soon as we cast the Evolution, the game checks to see if there are any creatures that need to die and puts them in the graveyard before we can search up something like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or Demon of Dark Schemes to take advantage of the massive amounts of death we are causing. Regardless, it’s a great way to negate the drawback of casting Eldritch Evolution. We can fill that deck out with creatures that like dying (Primal Druid, Prized Amalgam, Haunted Dead, Filigree Familiar) and some top-end.
One interesting conflict in Standard will be the battle between Spell Queller and Yahenni’s Expertise. It could well be the defining battle at some point during the season, as each takes out the other. A well-timed removal spell could devastate a W/U Flash battlefield, but similarly a well-timed Spell Queller could wreck all the plans of the Expertise player. This might increase the value of something like Harsh Scrutiny in order to make sure the way is clear.
Now this is where the fun begins. As you might expect, an expanded card pool yields an expanded pool of choices for the free casting. As with Standard there are a couple of cards getting all of the hype, and chief among those is Ancestral Vision. Drawing three cards is rarely a bad thing, and doing so with no additional investment is even better. Could that combination make a U/B Control deck viable in a format that has struggled to establish a true control strategy?
Better yet, could Yahenni’s Expertise slot into Grixis Control? If casting Ancestral Vision on the back of a sweeper is good, casting it again later on the back of a 4/4 with menace can only be better, right? Just, please…don’t cast Living End for free in this way. It’s…not the most productive of strategies.
Speaking of Goblin Dark-Dwellers, they taught us that if we can legally cast one half of a split card for free, we can cast either half.
Because I enjoy messing around with rules loopholes, I am excited to see what we can do with split cards here. Yahenni is apparently also an expert at sidestepping huge mana costs, like in the case of Boom//Bust. As a refresher, split cards give you two answers when you ask for their converted mana costs. Boom//Bust will tell you it costs both two and six, for example. That means that we can cast the Expertise, wipe away all the small creatures, and then destroy all the lands. It’s reliant on having a better battlefield position after the spells resolve, but it probably wins the game if you’re the only one with anything left.
Why stop there, though? Digging deeper into the rules corners, we can actually play both halves of a fuse split card this way, as long as one of the halves has a converted mana cost of three or less.
Turn//Burn, for example, would enable you to kill two creatures that normally would have survived the Expertise. Neat, potentially powerful, but surely we can do better? Catch//Release can also potentially clean up some leftovers, including a couple of planeswalkers if applicable. Still not convinced; I want to bust the game open here. Breaking//Entering certainly has the name to do that, but the ability might fall just short. Sure, it has potential do so some ridiculous stuff, including reanimating a Goblin Dark-Dwellers to cast one half of the split card again, but that’s random.
How about the old favorite, Beck//Call? That not only gives us an instant battlefield after wiping everything away, it also draws you at least four cards. Now that’s more like it! Ancestral Vision, eat your heart out.
Of course, the expanded card pool adds some planeswalkers we can cast as a follow-up. Chief among them of course is Tibalt, the Fiend-Blooded. Although we are losing out on maximum value by casting a two-drop instead of a three, the sheer power of…okay, even I am not casting Tibalt.
Brewers have limits too. Liliana of the Veil is at the top of the power list for eligible planeswalkers, and with good reason. She can clean up annoying Tarmogoyf-shaped leftovers and keep the opponent’s ability to recover down to a minimum. An active Liliana on an empty battlefield is one of the most frustrating things to face down in Modern. Jace Beleren might not be able to protect himself, but he does keep our hand full. The one I am really interested in trying is Ashiok, Nightmare Weaver. It’s an underrated card that can be very difficult to beat outside of Abrupt Decay, and in Modern, that middle ability can often get two or three uses before you have to tick up again.
It certainly seems like Modern will push Yahenni’s Expertise into a Grixis shell, as that is where we’re finding most of the power. While Beck//Call is strong, it does kind of need us to play four colors and isn’t really good enough on its own unless I am missing something. In addition to the cards we’ve already mentioned, Kolaghan’s Command is an amazing addition.
Most of the Grixis decks right now have eschewed any of the Charm cycle, but of course they can all be cast after an Expertise. Rakdos Charm has solid sideboard applications, Izzet Charm has seen fair amounts of play (though primarily in combo decks), and Dimir Charm has always seemed underrated to me. Even Grixis Charm has some applications, killing most things or bouncing a permanent we couldn’t otherwise handle. That third option might not seem great, but it could win games, especially if we have an army of Zombie tokens from something like Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet or some Thopter tokens from Pia and Kiran Nalaar. We’re not always going to be tagging it onto an Expertise.
Bring on the Previews!
As you’re reading this, we are a couple of days into the real meat of spoiler season. There are already some cards that have me excited: Pia’s Revolution is a combo waiting to happen, Battle at the Bridge is exactly the kind of removal I love, Oath of Ajani seems like it’s either excellent or unplayable, and both Paradox Engine and Planar Bridge are begging to be broken wide open. I like three of the four planeswalkers we’ve seen, too!
That’s all we have for this week, folks. As always, thanks for stopping by. With the New Year comes a new set, and I wish us all the best of success with it and throughout the year. Until next time…Brew On!