Searching For Diamonds

Valeriy has decklists, advice, and adorable plushies packed into his analysis of Dark Ascension Standard!

Tomorrow, one hundred and fifty-eight brand new cards are going to invade Standard. Okay, there are some reprints, but more importantly there has been a constant buzz that almost all of the new cards are unplayable. In fact, even the obvious Sorin, Lord of Innistrad isn’t as good as many wanted him to be. Everybody is searching the spoiler, looking for the One Ring—or at least for a few playables besides Lingering Souls and Strangleroot Geist. Even after this precise search, it’s very funny that many interesting cards are still being underestimated. I’ve found something that looks like it could be a volcanic pipe, and I’m going to investigate it, searching for diamonds. I even have better weapons than my English-speaking readers do, because Heavy Mattock, once translated into Russian, reads “Heavy Pickaxe.”

In the Fog of War

Worlds, 2009. The 6-0 Standard decks after the first day are Jund, Jund, Jund, Jund, Boros, Vampires, and U/W Turbofog—the slowest, most boring deck that has ever existed. With everybody playing straight Jund strategies, Turbofog looks like the best possible choice. Joel Calafell’s weapons included the powerful Font of Mythos and Archive Trap, with Baneslayer Angel as a postboard win condition once his opponents have sided out their removal.

Clinging Mists is the third available Fog effect in current Standard, after Fog itself and Moonmist. This card makes me feel that Turbofog might just be the deck to play. There is no Font of Mythos or even Howling Mine—but there also aren’t any confusing “beneficial triggers” or whatever they named them last December. Rites of Flourishing is the weapon of choice, and Jace, Memory Adept is still waiting for his hour. The lack of Howling Mine effects means that we will more likely have some mish-mash of Turbofog, Turbolands and Mill—probably not as boring as the original Turbofog, but potentially equally effective. Last, but not least, Snapcaster Mage will serve to supplement our Fog effects, with the sweet ability to rebuy other tools.

There are no white Fog effects in Standard—somebody wheeled the Magic color pie back to its initial position—so the deck will be U/G. Red for Blasphemous Act, the easiest Wrath of God to splash, could be considered, but I do not really like it. The main win condition is Jace, Memory Adept—the fastest way to mill your opponent out of the game. I’ve searched for additional win cons, but there was nothing really spectacular (Praetor’s Counsel?), so Consecrated Sphinx finally made the cut—but if you find a better card, I’d be really glad to read your comment.

We worked together as teammates, but this list should be credited to Andrey Kochurov more than to me—my part is mostly the sideboard. The idea is simple: there are seven Fog effects, four Snapcaster Mages, four Jaces and a ton of acceleration/card drawing. The goal is to install Jace, Memory Adept with three or four Fog effects in your hand. Clinging Mists’ fateful hour ability is super-good against unprepared opponents, and I believe that one catch will be enough to win the game, but I dislike that fateful hour worked too often during our tests. I’m not really satisfied with the deck because there are some problems to solve, so I’d like to hear your opinions.

Problem number one is the lack of a second win condition. Jace is great, but four copies are just not enough. I thought about Shape Anew into Blightsteel Colossus, sacrificing a lone Eilxir of Immortality, but too many cards are required and the chance to draw both copies of the big artifact is too big—not to mention Vapor Snag. The current decision is to fill these slots with the useful Blue Sun’s Zenith, because it does some relevant work and has the potential to win the game, but the deck desperately needs something better.

Problem number two are the red decks and other decks winning without coming to the red zone, such as Burning Vengeance and Wolf Run Ramp. The Burning Vengeance matchup is just unwinnable, so the only possible solution is Witchbane Orb with a transformational sideboard into some sort of conventional control deck. Tree of Redemption is great against red decks, but Wolf Run Ramp—do you remember Junya Iyanaga’s four Galvanic Blasts in the finals of Worlds? This is the typical end of the game: Inferno Titan, Devil’s Play, Galvanic Blast, and even Slagstorm—yes, the second mode!—are just too much. Witchbane Orb is great, but they’ll have Acidic Slime against you anyway. One possible idea for this matchup is sideboarding Swords and creatures, but Invisible Stalker is cold to Slagstorm—thus we are forced to use “bad” Sword of War and Peace instead of “good” Sword of Body and Mind, and remain afraid of Acidic Slime. We’ll have to keep an eye on Wolf Run Ramp and see if people start playing it more in the near future.

The third problem is Karn Liberated. This card just blows Turbofog out of the game! Sideboarding Bramblecrush is necessary more to beat him than for anything else. One positive point is that nobody is playing more than one copy of this powerful planeswalker. The negative one is the sadness of Karn’s ultimate ability, which is not winning the game, thus preventing us from playing Karn Liberated instead of being afraid of him.

The last noticeable problem is countermagic backed up by a reasonable clock—read, “Delver of Secrets is death with two wings, and Mental Misstep counters Fog.” We can exchange some Fogs with Moonmists and even use our own Mental Missteps against Delver of Secrets, but the reason to consider Turbofog is that I expect Humans to prevail over Delver decks. Gather the Townsfolk makes Champion of the Parish really unfair, and Thalia, Guardian of Thraben is good against a wide variety of decks, including Delver, B/W Tokens, and control. Playing both Thalia and Mana Leak is unlikely, so I expect to see less annoying Delvers and more Humans—that makes Turbofog a better choice than it was before Dark Ascension. Speaking of Humans…

Deranged Outcast is the new Arcbound Ravager

No, not really—R&D will not repeat old mistakes, so Deranged Outcast is just a very good card. Common colors for Humans are U/W because of Moorland Haunt, Geist of Saint Traft, and Mana Leak, but the obvious rise of B/W tokens will make Traft and Haunt worse, while Mana Leak is bad with Thalia, Guardian of Thraben—G/W will be the better choice.

Deranged Outcast’s ability costs mana, but you are not forced to sacrifice him when you’re willing to convert your less powerful dudes into killing machines. Deranged Outcast is a great way to improve your own ability to win a race—every block is risky, and many attacks are dangerous. Do you remember how unfair Kabuto Moth was? The only real drawback of the Deranged Outcast is that he is unable to pump Mirran Crusader, but I’ll get over this. The final chord is a pair of Overruns to beat opposing Honor of the Pures and other “anthem” effects.

Possible changes are metagame-dependent: you would like to have Thalia maindeck in a control-heavy field—the  stupid-turn-4-Sun Titan-dot-dec could easily become popular again because of Elesh Norn, Grand Cenobite—or you’d like to return to the mana dork-based Martin Juza deck, though Gut Shot and a weakness to Thalia prevent me from doing so. Another argument against the mana dork-based deck is that white creatures are just better now, as Champion of the Parish is so unfair with Gather the Townsfolk. Humans are becoming the Holy Grail of Standard, but I still have my own Holy Grail to find.

Quest for the Holy Grail

I posted a Chalice of Life/Chalice of Death deck in my previous article, and now I have an update. One of my friends said, “It’s a funny idea to come to the PT with Burning Vengeance, just to test if you’ll be paired against paranoids with Grafdigger’s Cage.” Control decks with Trinket Mage instead of Snapcaster Mage are the best possible place for Cage and many other rarely-used tools, so with necessary anti-aggro preparations that would be the best deck to shut down rogue strategies, which are likely to be seen at the Pro Tour.

I like this deck very much, like any sweet brew with Tezzeret. It was unlikely that Tezzeret would have significant support in any of the Innistrad block sets, but it happened. Grand Architect and Invisible Stalker had to go, in favor of consistency and anti-token removal. The plan is very simple: survive for a couple of turns with early removal and chump blockers, then land Tezzeret and start doing big things. Tezz’s ultimate is the primary win condition, but Chalice of Life solves the common problem of short shots and improves the consistency of our draws.

This sideboard contains tools for transformation into a more conventional control deck, including additional lands alongside Grave Titans, in case of heavy artifact hate. The most notable additional weapon is the first Constructed application of Golden Urn, Sorin Markov (who is still legal and good in this deck), and Myr Battlesphere.

Myr Battlesphere and some final notes

I’m collecting foil Myrs, and my collection was replenished by a unique and super-cute one: Myr Battlesphere! And when I say “super-cute,” I don’t mean Japanese foil or old-frame alterations. The cutest Myr Battlesphere ever is a plushy! Yes, plushy!

Are you curious what a plushy Myr looks like? See!


There is a girl somewhere in Canada who makes wonderful toys, and many of them are Magic-related; you can find them here. My friends found these amazing toys somewhere on the internet and decided that one of them would be a great gift for me—a great decision! At the prerelease of Dark Ascension, someone just came and gave me a Myr. Then another person gave me the second one, then the third, until I finally had the whole Myr Battlespere!



This great gift was something early for my birthday, but it’s so good when celebrations are longer than usual. My friends are so amazing!

This is almost the end of the article, and I have a few notes to share before saying goodbye.

Dawntreader Elk is not Sakura-Tribe Elder, but it is an interesting upgrade for Wolf Run Ramp – miles ahead of Viridian Emissary and probably better than Sphere of the Suns in both R/G and B/G ramp lists. I will not post a decklist because there are no significant changes aside from the Elk—just remember to have enough removal in your list (Whipflare is always welcome).

The last notes are about Modern. PTQ season is in progress, and there are not many interesting options in Dark Ascension. Grafdigger’s Cage could be a defense against the much discussed Gifts Ungiven for two cards—probably in Affinity, where Elesh Norn equals a lost game. Chalice of Life is an obvious addition to Martyr of Sands, meaning that maybe these decks will finally become playable, but the most interesting card is Mikaeus, the Unhallowed.

Melira Combo is a strong player in Modern. It may even be the strongest one, but the deck requires high playskill and making a ton of decisions—plus, it’s impossible to go infinite on MTGO. Dark Ascension doesn’t solve any of these problems, but it solves a few less obstacles. You can’t combo if you have Melira, Sylvok Outcast, Viscera Seer, and a Kitchen Finks/Murderous Redcap that already has -1/-1 counters on it. Situations when you’re forced to cast your Finks early and to chump block come up often, or just when the opponent kills your persist guy in response to Melira, so this problem is not to be underestimated.

Whenever a creature with both persist and undying dies, you choose which ability to resolve first. So, with Mikaeus, the Unhallowed in play, you can not only win with a small guy in play, but stack persist and then undying in turn, alternating to make an infinite loop without Melira! Lastly, Mikaeus is going to make MTGO wins easier by pumping Murderous Redcap and providing more power for winning through combat damage.

That’s all for today, play Magic and be cute!

Valeriy Shunkov