At almost 10 PM on Sunday, an exhausted figure trudged out of his local game store with a bag full of loot slung over his shoulder. In the 53 hours since he arrived at the store for Friday Night Magic, he had played 30 rounds of Magic across six tournaments and slept for nine hours.
And if he could do it all again tomorrow, he would in a heartbeat.
I do love Prerelease weekends, though the Monday after is usually a rough one to navigate. There’s something about the hype of a new set that turns more people into fun-loving casual players, making each event relaxed and more fun. New cards, new interactions, the chance to play Two-Headed Giant…it’s the purest and most entertaining way to play Magic all weekend.
As is often the case, I have been impressed by some cards that didn’t really stand out to me before, both through the Prerelease and in testing since. Some of these have been spoken about by a lot of others, but some are still flying under the radar. I might even have a decklist or two…
The respective Oaths of Jace and Nissa are getting all the hype, but don’t sleep on the white entry in the cycle. Like the others it has a somewhat impressive enters-the-battlefield effect and an ongoing one that makes us want to load up on planeswalkers, but what really impressed me is how important that ETB effect is in a Superfriends deck. Jace’s Oath synergizes well with Jace, Vryn’s Prodigy, but Gideon’s synergizes well with…well, everything with loyalty counters.
In Standard alone, we can ultimate Sorin and Ugin after one tick up. Gideon survives his emblem. Chandra can wipe out Siege Rhinos and Tasigur. That’s without even mentioning the blockers we get from just resolving the thing in the first place! Modern makes things even sillier, as Tezzeret, Agent of Bolas can ultimate right away (although that deck is probably not a thing), as can Elspeth Tirel if needed (conveniently leaving the tokens behind). I’ve been trying to come up with a Superfriends list in both Mardu and four-color varieties, and this is where we’re at right now:
- 2 Sarkhan, the Dragonspeaker
- 1 Sorin, Solemn Visitor
- 2 Narset Transcendent
- 2 Sarkhan Unbroken
- 3 Gideon, Ally of Zendikar
- 2 Chandra, Flamecaller
- 3 Nissa, Voice of Zendikar
That sideboard is a little messy but it’s a placeholder until the metagame evolves. Leaf Gilder could probably be anything else and be an improvement, but in testing it has been good in the Superfriends mirror. I expect we’ll have trouble with aggro decks, hence the Wall of Resurgence/Arashin Cleric package in the board.
I really like Narset in a Superfriends-style deck, as she’s going to draw us a card fairly often while also providing a relevant ultimate. We aren’t really in the business of using her to rebound, though, so this might be a place to trim a card. Oath of Chandra has been okay at killing something early but otherwise unimpressive. I have found in testing that very few people are running Ruinous Path, though I expect that to change if these decks are as good as they appear to be. The allure of landing game-winning threat after game-winning threat against decks with only a couple of ways to deal with them is tempting.
You know what was a good card? Upheaval. Now, Crush of Tentacles is no Upheava,l but it really doesn’t have to be in order to be a powerful card. Every time I saw this spell cast at the Prerelease, the caster won the game. I ran into a fairly disgusting U/W Tempo deck during testing that was making use of delve and rebound to be able to surge this easily, and I died to tentacle-based violence. It wasn’t pretty, folks.
Several people have mentioned how well Crush of Tentacles combines with Oath of Nissa to turn on surge, but that U/W Tempo deck was a real thing. Reflector Mage, Roil Spout, Narset Transcendent, Clutch of Currents, Scatter to the Winds, Dig Through Time, and Treasure Cruise were the main things I saw, but there was red mana in the deck for (I assume) Jeskai Charm. I’ll have to keep an eye on this one and see if we can’t doctor up a full list.
Something about cards that will likely punish me for casting them appeals to me. I think it’s the inherent puzzle to solve of how to make them actually good. I can’t resist a good puzzle, or indeed any kind of challenge.
Luckily this puzzle doesn’t seem too hard to crack. It doesn’t take long for a 6/6 flying beatstick to close out a game, especially not in a black deck that in theory has no trouble clearing blockers out of the way. Combined with some quick card filtering (Jace, Oath of Jace, Tormenting Voice) we can fill up our graveyard in a hurry and then use Tasigur, Murderous Cut, Dig Through Time, and Treasure Cruise to remove the chaff. When Inverter of Truth does its thing, we’re getting a library of fifteen to twenty cards of pure gas. It’s possible we can follow the same formula in Modern, only with Thought Scour and other cantrips to fill up the graveyard. Chandra, Flamecaller also seems like a decent place to go with this deck. A quick mockup might look something like this:
This might be a little weak to early aggression, in which case we might need some Fiery Impulse over the Duress or Tormenting Voice. Adding Gurmag Angler is tempting, but we don’t have the velocity in Standard that we do in Modern. I can also see a case for building this as a Sultai deck with Sidisi, Brood Tyrant and the Den Protector/Deathmist Raptor package. One card I think is absolutely essential is Torrent Elemental, possibly as more than a one-of.
In ten years you’ll be able to look at your friends and ask, “Hey, remember when they reprinted Snapcaster Mage without flash, but as a 4/4 with menace? Good times, good times.” But it won’t be good times. It will be bad times.
I’ll grant you that comparing GDD with Tiago Chan is a bit of a stretch, but there is upside here in that the spell is free and the body is significant. In fact around these parts we’ve taken to calling GDD the Smackcaster Mage, because he will give you a hefty smack. Oh yes, he doesn’t have flash and therefore can’t flash in to counter something or cast end-step stuff. And yes, we can’t flash back an End Hostilities or a Crux of Fate or a Gifts Ungiven. Technically that’s a downside, but how often did you really do that anyway? Our new friend Smackcaster is definitely not as good as the best blue two-drop, but there’s a lot of room between “worse than Snapcaster Mage” and “not good.”
Let’s start with a couple of technicalities. Most people will know that if you choose a spell with X in the mana cost, X is going to be 0. You can choose to pay any additional costs you wish, like Buyback or Kicker or Entwine. Finally, as the ability is not granting Flashback to the chosen spell, it will return to your hand if it is Remanded or if the buyback cost is paid. Make sense? Great.
The range of cards we can cast with GDD is impressive. In Standard alone we get Ruinous Path, Nissa’s Pilgrimage, Duress, Infinite Obliteration, Charms from each clan; Commands for Kolaghan, Dromoka, and Atarka; Crackling Doom and a litany of burn spells. There are 227 possible hits in Standard even without counting Oath of the Gatewatch, although some of those are duds like Radiant Flames and Painful Truths. Modern adds some powerful bombs like Terminate, Maelstrom Pulse, Abrupt Decay, Path to Exile, and even more burn spells. I can see Jund loving the heck out of this, maybe even Grixis. When the fail case is tacking a free Lightning Bolt or Serum Visions onto a 4/4 with menace, I don’t really mind failing.
It only took one attack from a 4/5 Shambling Vent to know that this card is the real deal. A 2/3 vigilance for two mana is borderline playable on its own, but with the creature-lands in the format and all the awaken effects around, the Advocate is set to do some serious advocacy.
One place I want to try shoving this is in some sort of Temur lands deck. With Wandering Fumarole and Lumbering Falls able to perform the beatdown and Mina and Denn, Wildborn (a card I think is vastly underrated) giving us the ramp, I’m looking to play around 30 lands. Undergrowth Champion is a natural for the deck, and maybe my old friend and shameful speculation target Animist’s Awakening could even do some work. Omnath, Locus of Rage also seems good. We can round out the list with some awaken spells, which lose some of their drawback in a deck that is never missing a land drop.
If we don’t want to build around the Advocate, we can slot him into any number of green-based decks without much trouble. Abzan decks looking to go a little longer could certainly use the early drop, and the potential for it to go big late-game makes it a better than average top deck for a bear.
Oh. Oh my. Be still, my beating heart. This card. I’ve held off on the gushing because I wanted to play with it first, but I can confirm it’s a silly as I thought.
It’s no secret that I love some Soul Sisters action. Ayli is like the older, cool Sister who has a driver’s license and takes the younger kids to their garden parties or Netflix and chill sessions or whatever the teens are calling it these days. Get off my lawn. On her own she makes me want to go back to the Martyr build of Sisters with black for Dark Confidant and Ayli, maybe even some Tidehollow Sculler action.
Standard gives us a bunch of options for getting to 30 life. Mastery of the Unseen has proven more than capable of gaining large chunks of life, and white gives us the megamorphtastic ability of Hidden Dragonslayer, which happens to have lifelink. New guy Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet joins the party, and if we go a little deeper we can add Arashin Cleric, Adding blue lets us add Ojutai’s Command for synergy and lifegain, while adding Fathom Feeder as an early two-drop to keep the heat off us. Remember, Ayli at the base is a 2/3 with deathtouch who can gain us life with even one other creature. The sacrifice cost might get a little steep, but once we hit 30, it becomes a lot more tolerable. With some sort of regular token generation it just gets silly, trading three mana and a token for a permanent.
What about an Abzan build? Siege Rhino is a good card, I hear, and we might be able to make use of Pulse of Murasa to retrieve a Rhino or Ayli while gaining significant life. Den Protector serves a similar role, albeit without the lifegain. And as with the B/W version, we get Shambling Vent for fun and profit.
I was going to write about Stoneforge Masterwork here, but it has consistently underwhelmed me. For it to do anything, you need two creatures on the battlefield that share a type, and you need to be winning before it does anything impressive. Sure, it looks great after a large Secure the Wastes, but so do most cards!
On the other hand, the Claws always did work for me. I played them in both a green-based Dinosaurs-style deck with Tajuru Beastmaster and Firemantle Mage and in a W/B lifegain deck with Kalastria Healers and Vampire Envoys. I think the Ally synergies are what make the card good, though I can see Gideon emblems also making the ability better. There are some very powerful rally effects (Tajuru Warcaller and Resolute Blademaster being the most powerful) and getting a trigger for free is pretty powerful. Add in Gideon and Retreat to Emeria and we are potentially looking at three free triggers each turn.
With Stone Haven Outfitter and Weapons Trainer in the format, the time might finally have come for Relic Seeker to see some play. Aside from the Claws, we can add Sword of the Animist as a solid option, and our worst case scenario is a bunch of creatures that are perfectly fine beating down on their own. Probably not a top-tier strategy, but certainly one I want to try.
By the way, don’t sleep on Seer’s Lantern. I want that card in so many decks that it’s unhealthy.
I’ll finish us up on this little beauty, which exactly nobody has overlooked or missed. A 3/2 for three that draws you a card when it dies would be good just with those stats. That we have the possibility to put our top card onto the battlefield is a bonus. That we can still choose not to put it into play if we want (I’m looking at you, Hangarback Walker) is like the bourbon glaze on the cherry on top.
Enough with the gushing. Want a decklist? I know you want a decklist. This is what I took to FNM this weekend:
- 3 Anafenza, the Foremost
- 3 Rakshasa Deathdealer
- 2 Warden of the First Tree
- 3 Nissa, Vastwood Seer
- 4 Catacomb Sifter
- 2 Drana, Liberator of Malakir
- 1 Ayli, Eternal Pilgrim
- 2 Kalitas, Traitor of Ghet
- 2 Sylvan Advocate
- 4 Matter Reshaper
This thing felt sweet. I took down the tournament, beating W/B Tokens, Eldrazi Aggro, Abzan, and W/B Warriors before taking the ID with Atarka Red. I played some fun games against the red deck and ended up splitting them, so the deck should be fine there.
Sylvan Advocate was a house, Ayli was very good, and Kalitas was unimpressive almost every time. The exception was when I attacked with my team, let Drana connect and put counters on everyone, and then sacrificed Drana to Kalitas to pump him up. Were I to run this again, the Kalitas would get swapped out for another Advocate and a second Ayli.
And with that, I leave you to enjoy the week leading up to #SCGCOL with brews in your mind and anticipation in your heart. As always, thanks for stopping by and feel free to send along any feedback you might have.
Until next time, brew on!